Leone’s “Giù La Testa,” later retitled not once but twice for American release,
opened in Italy in October 1971 to great expectations by the director’s
fans.According to the preeminent Leone
expert Sir Christopher Frayling, in an informative audio commentary included in
a new Blu-ray edition of the film from Kino Lorber Studio Classics under its
second U.S. title, “A Fistful of Dynamite,” the Italian phrase meant something
like “keep your head down.”In other
words, in times of social convulsion like the bloody 1913 Mexican revolution
portrayed in the movie, save yourself unnecessary grief and keep as low a
profile as you can.Toshiro Mifune’s
wandering samurai in “Yojimbo” offered similar advice: “A quiet life eating
rice is best.”In Leone’s film, James
Coburn and Rod Steiger starred as mismatched partners -- a fugitive Irish dynamiter
and a volatile Mexican bandit -- who learn that you only bring sorrow and
tragedy upon yourself when you leap into the whirlwind of political
turmoil.When the picture reached the
U.S. through United Artists in July 1972, the title was changed to “Duck, You
Sucker,”a rough translation.In a literal sense, it’s the warning that
Coburn’s character invariably utters just before he detonates his nitro
charges.Leone thought it was a common
colloquialism in America.Maybe he was
thinking of “fire in the hole.”United
Artists gave the release decent publicity, selling it as an action movie in a
shorter (by half an hour) cut than the 157-minute Italian print.I remember seeing the ad art of Coburn and
Steiger prominently displayed on a billboard in downtown Pittsburgh that
summer, just before the picture opened.The ad extolled Leone as “the master of adventure.”Around the same time, United Artists Records
released Ennio Morricone’s eclectic soundtrack on vinyl.The New York Times panned the movie, but Time
Magazine offered a mostly positive review, one of the earliest to take Leone on
his own terms instead of dismissing him as a passing curiosity.
audience turnout was sparse, and when the film reached smaller markets like the
one where I saw it in early fall 1972, the studio had renamed it “A Fistful of
Dynamite,” in an attempt to lure audiences who had flocked to Leone’s “A
Fistful of Dollars” and its sequels starring Clint Eastwood.The strategy gave the picture a second chance
in movie houses in that era before home video and streaming video when movies
had to make money at the box office or not at all. However, it didn’t do much
to boost business.In the meantime,
another violent drama about a fugitive IRA gunman in revolutionary Mexico,
Ralph Nelson’s “The Wrath of God,” had opened in theaters. Nelson’s film had
the added commercial advantage of a “Playboy” pictorial.For the record, it didn’t sell many tickets
either despite the publicity afforded by Hef’s magazine.Later, TV and VHS prints of Leone’s movie
retained “A Fistful of Dynamite” as the title, and their pan-and-scan format
ruined Giuseppe Ruzzolini’s beautifully composed Techniscope photography.The first respectful home-video edition
finally appeared in 1996 from MGM Home Video on laser disc.Remember that technology from the dawn of
home theater, sonny?The 1996 laser disc
retained “A Fistful of Dynamite” as the title, but restored the widescreen
aspect of the image and much of the footage missing from previous U.S. versions.“Duck, You Sucker” ultimately resurfaced as
the chosen title for its premier on U.S. DVD from MGM Home Video in 2007.
the run from the British government during the Irish Rebellion, explosives
expert John Mallory (Coburn) comes to Mexico to work for German mining
interests.There, traveling through the
desert on a vintage motorbike, he crosses paths with Juan Miranda (Steiger), a
sweaty, hot-tempered bandit who leads a gun-toting gang of robbers.The gang consists of Juan’s elderly father and
Juan’s six sons “by different mothers.”Miranda sees Mallory’s proficiency with explosives as the key to
realizing his long-cherished dream of breaking into the fortress-like Bank of
Mesa Verde.The loot will enable him and
his family to leave Mexico and reach the U.S., where -- like the worst
nightmare of a Trump supporter -- he expects to pursue an even grander career
robbing American banks.After Juan
deviously maneuvers Mallory into a partnership, the Irishman eludes him but the
two reunite in Mesa Verde.There,
Mallory has joined a cell of insurrectionists headed by the dapper Dr. Villega
(Romolo Valli).Villega plots a series
of diversions in Mesa Verde to support two imminent onslaughts by the rebel
commanders Villa and Zapata.One
diversion will be an explosion at the bank, dovetailing with Miranda’s own
obsession of pulling his big heist.Once
the building is blasted open, Juan will lead his kids inside and empty the
vault.But things take a turn he doesn’t
expect, and instead of getting rich from the break-in, he becomes an unwitting
hero of the revolution.For the cynical
Juan, who has no use for politics and no loyalties beyond his rough affection
for his aged father and his sons, it’s a dumbfounding development.Moreover, his new-found notoriety puts him in
the crosshairs of a punitive military expedition led by a ruthless officer in
an armored transport, Col. Gunther Ruiz (Antoine Saint-John).
retrospect, it’s easy to see why the film did poorly at the U.S. box office,
first under anopaque title and then
under, arguably, a misleading one.Leone
enjoyed using an elliptical narrative style in which often, as a scene begins
or unfolds, the viewer doesn’t quite know where the characters are or the point
of what they’re doing.Eventually, with
a visual or verbal cue, the meaning becomes clear.Fans enjoy this technique, similar to a
stand-up comic preceding a punchline with an elaborate set-up.Leone trusts that you’re smart enough and
curious enough to stay with him.But the
technique was bound to frustrate 1972 moviegoers who expected a straightforward
shoot-’em-up narrative, based on the poster art of Steiger firing a machine
gun, Coburn displaying a coat lined with dynamite, and a military convoy being
blown up.Some confusion also resulted
from the cuts made for the U.S. release.What happened to the paying job that Mallory was hired for, and if he’s
finished with rebellions as he had implied in one passing comment, why does he
end up collaborating with Dr. Villega’s resistance movement?A scene in the overseas print explained that
Juan had lured John’s employer and a military guard to a remote church, and
then killed them with a blast of Mallory’s dynamite.Mallory, known to be a wanted Irish rebel,
was blamed for the murders; presumably, as the authorities put out their
dragnet, he had only one recourse to slip out of Miranda’s devious grip -- go
underground, seek refuge with the Mexican revolutionaries, and resume his
The consequences of sexual desire in young women is akin to that of contracting the bubonic plague. That seems to be the message of the 1965 film version of A Rage to Live, best on the best-selling novel by John O'Hara. The opening sequences introduce us to Grace Caldwell (Suzanne Pleshette), a gorgeous high school student who lives a seemingly idyllic life in small town America. Grace shares her affluent home with her widowed mother Emily (Carmen Matthews) and her older brother Brock (Linden Chiles), a straight-as-an-arrow type who is attending Yale and who tries to fill the role of father and husband to the best of his ability. Grace is a "good girl" is all respects. She studies hard and looks after her mother, who she clearly adores. However, she does have one disturbing aspect to her personality: she has an active sexual desire in an age where a young woman was supposed to value her virginity above virtually anything else. Grace likes to flirt with her male classmates and there is no shortage of potential lovers. Disturbingly, she realizes that she doesn't have to have any deep emotions for any of them in order to find them sexually attractive. When she gets caught necking with one such boy, Charlie (Mark Goddard), they are discovered by his mother and Grace becomes the center of a local scandal. The notion of such an innocent act leading to such consequences probably seemed over the top even in 1965, but the situation does worsen when Grace does end up bedding several young men, thus living up (or down) to her new-found reputation as a "bad girl". This brings strife to her family and friends and Grace seeks to smooth things over by accompanying her ill mother on a vacation to an island resort. However, temptation rears its ugly head and while Grace sneaks out to have a dalliance with a hunky waiter, mom is stricken by an attack and dies. Consumed by guilt, Grace is convinced that she is nothing more than a slut, destined to live a life of shame. She gets a second chance when she meets Sidney Tate (Bradford Dillman), a handsome, hard working young man who is instantly attracted to her. Before long, he asks her to marry him, leading Grace to confess that she isn't a virgin. Sidney takes this bit of news with the same gravity he would if she had confessed to being a serial murderer, but he is forgiving of her past and believes her vow to stay loyal. The happy couple soon has a baby and all seems well...until Roger Bannon (Ben Gazzara) enters their lives. Roger had known Grace slightly for years and confesses to her that he has long been obsessed with her. Although devoted to her devout but boring husband, Grace becomes tempted by Roger's gruff, blue collar ways and is turned on by his raw sexuality. Before long, they become lovers-and their relationship sets in motion a series of dire events that lead to a shocking (and ironic) conclusion.
A Rage to Live seems very dated in its early sequences. Yet, it serves as a disturbing time capsule from an era in which women were supposed to know their place and regard sex as nothing more than a wifely duty, similar to doing housework or changing diapers. The notion that a woman may have sexual desires of her own had profound consequences in polite circles. One of the drawbacks of these opening scenes is that Suzanne Pleshette was in her mid-twenties at the time and, although her performance is excellent, she is simply too old to play a high school girl. Thus, when her mother or brother dictate directives to her, it seems rather absurd to see this clearly mature young woman meekly obeying them. This becomes less of an issue as the story progresses and Pleshette is playing a character her own age. Director Walter Grauman plays up the soap opera elements of the story, all to the accompaniment of a fine score by Nelson Riddle and crisp black and white cinematography by Charles Lawton. As soon as Grace resolves one crisis in her troubled life, another takes its place. Yet, these problems are all of her own making. The concept of the film- a likable woman who cannot control her sexual urges and fantasies- was certainly daring for its day, especially since Grace is presented as a sympathetic figure who dotes on her husband and young child. Yet, she repeatedly risks it all for another turn under the covers. The cautionary aspects of the tale are as old as time: if you play with fire, you'll probably end up getting burned. Yet, Grace is not a villain. Her defense of her unfaithful actions to her husband is the time worn excuse: she loves her spouse and her dalliances are only to fulfill her physical needs. (Seeing how boring Dillman's Sidney is, you can hardly blame her.)
The film is engrossing throughout, even during those scenes that approach guilty pleasure status. Peter Graves turns up later in the film in a key role as a would-be lover of Grace's who plays an instrumental role in her fate. Carmen Matthews is especially good as Pleshette's long-suffering mother and reliable character actor James Gregory provides a typically deft turn as the family doctor. Gazzara is especially good as the guy from the other side of tracks whose animal magnetism initially attracts Grace but eventually frightens her.
A Rage to Live is by no means an example of classic movie-making but it is certainly worth a look, if only to observe how cinema was maturing rapidly during this period and exploring subjects that would have been taboo only a few years before.
The Warner Archive has released the film as a burn to order DVD. Quality is excellent, though there are no bonus features. The DVD is region free.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray edition of the little-remembered 1954 "B" movie thriller "Highway Dragnet". Despite it's modest production values, the film is a textbook example of how efficiently films in this genre were made and how much action and plot devices can be worked into a movie with an abbreviated running time (70 minutes, in this case.) Young Roger Corman wrote the story upon which the screenplay was based and also served as one of the producers. That's about the only aspect of the film that one could point out in terms of separating "Highway Dragnet" from countless other crime dramas shot in a similar style. That isn't meant as a criticism. We're rediscovering how cleverly made so many of these micro-budget flicks were and this one is one of the better examples. The film opens with a brief segment in Las Vegas. Richard Conte is Jim Henry, who has just returned from the conflict in Korea and is now looking to enjoy civilian life. He's on his way back to his family home in the Salton Sea area in California when his pit stop at a Vegas casino results in a tense encounter with an abrasive blonde at the bar. The two publicly quarrel and Jim leaves the premises. The next day he is on a desert highway hitchhiking when cops pull up and arrest him. Turns out the sassy dame was found strangled in her bed and Jim is the prime suspect. He has an alibi that he was out with a friend all night but due to some convoluted plot reasons, the tale can't be easily substantiated. Jim resists the arresting officers, steals one of their guns and makes a getaway in the squad car. A full dragnet is in place when he ditches the police car when he comes across two stranded women who are trying to fix their broken-down car. Jim jumps to the rescue and gets the vehicle working, but also insists on traveling with them, as it gives him cover from the police. His new companions are Mrs. Cummings (Joan Bennett), a fashion photographer and her model Susan Willis (Wanda Hendrix). The women are en route to photo shoot at a local desert resort hotel. When they arrive there, they learn that Jim is wanted for murder. He takes off with them into the desert where the car breaks down and they are at the mercy of the relentless sun. Mrs. Cummings is determined to kill Jim if she has the opportunity but Susan, who is clearly enamored of the ex-serviceman, argues that she thinks he is innocent. The cat and mouse game continues as Jim desperately tries to make it back to his family home, where the man who can exonerate him is supposed to be waiting.
"Highway Dragnetl" is a fun romp, especially if you like the old style of crime movies in which the hero is nonplussed by events and seems to have Bondian abilities to escape every trap. Richard Conte makes a good, stalwart hero and his female co-stars are equally impressive. The climax of the film, shot on location amid flooded homes in the Salton Sea area, is quite atmospheric and impressive, even if the resolution of the crime is bit thin and far-fetched when it comes to revealing the real murderer. Director Nathan Juran wisely eschews studio-bound shots in favor of capitalizing on the desert locations and they add considerably to the quality of the production. "HighwayDragmetl" isn't a film noir classic but it's well-made and thoroughly enjoyable. Recommended, especially since you'll only need 70 minutes to experience it.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray offers a pristine transfer and a trailer gallery of other "B" crime movies available from the company.
Fritz Lang first made his mark in Germany during the short-lived Wiemar Republic in between the two world wars. Lang had immigrated from his native Austria to Berlin, where he made quite an impression during the silent era, directing such landmark masterpieces as "M" and "Metropolis". However, the rise of National Socialism repulsed him. He spawned an offer to make propaganda films for the Nazis and discreetly left the country before the worst aspects of Hitler's regime became reality. In Hollywood, Lang found he was welcomed by studios and was consistently employed on films for the major studios. However, Lang was working under constraints that early German cinema did not have, namely, the dreaded Hays Code, under which Hollywood engaged in self-censorship in order to prevent government oversight of film content. Consequently, many of the films directed by Lang in Hollywood were largely routine, run-of-the-mill productions although occasionally, he oversaw a true gem that reminded viewers of his genius. One of Lang's last American films before he returned to Germany was "While the City Sleeps", a tightly-wound 1956 urban thriller that was one of the first major productions to deal overtly with a serial killer.
The story opens on a harrowing note with a pre-credits scene in which an attractive young woman has her apartment entered by a delivery man who had previously stopped at her apartment. In short order, he subjects her to a horrific death. The murder quickly becomes big news and Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick), the elderly owner of The Sentinel, the city's most influential newspaper, barks orders that the search for the murder has to be played to the hilt in order to increase circulation. However, Kyne soon passes away, leaving control of The Sentinel to his son, Walter (Vincent Price), an inept elitist with a penchant for high living. Walter is well-aware that he is ill-equipped to run a major media organization that also includes a television network. He quickly alienates his most seasoned staffers and devises a Trumpian strategy of dangling a promotion in front of his three top reporters, thus causing the colleagues to turn on each other amid a chaotic environment of backstabbing. Walter has informed the competing journalists that the first man to solve the murder will get the job, then sits back and cruelly enjoys his manipulation of them. The staffers are old hands at getting big stories. Mark Loving (George Sanders) is a snooty newsroom editor who is romancing Mildred Donner (Ida Lupino), the office vamp and resident gossip columnist. Jon Day Griffith (Thomas Mitchell) is a cigar-chomping old time veteran reporter who quickly compromises his pride in the hopes of nailing down the promotion. James Craig is Harry Kritzer, an oily top reporter who is secretly romancing Walter's wife Dorothy (Rhonda Fleming), who enjoys making her husband an unknowing cuckold while at the same time manipulating Harry by threatening to withdraw her sexual favors. The central character in the story, however, is Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews), The Sentinel's top reporter and their celebrity on-air news anchor. Mobley, a chain-smoking cynic, wants no part of Walter's cruel ploy to win a promotion through sacrificing professional integrity. Edward, too, is involved in the hotbed of interoffice romances, and becomes engaged to Loving's secretary Sally (Nancy Liggett).
The interesting script for "While the City Sleeps" meanders but in a positive way. These are all fascinating enough characters to make the sordid aspects of the serial killer plot take second place. Mobley is an especially interesting character and far from the knight in shining armor found in many films of this era. He smokes and drinks too much and even alienates Nancy by almost succumbing to the sexual advances of Mildred. He loathes working for Walter but is too comfortable in his job and celebrity status to leave. Working with some inside tips from a friendly police detective (Howard Duff), Mobley comes up with a strategy for luring the killer into the open by using Nancy as bait. This kicks the murder plot into overdrive in the final section of the film and adds considerable suspense to the proceedings.
The first thing you note when reading the sleeve notes
for 100 Years of Horror (Mill Creek Entertainment)
is the three-disc set’s staggering running time: ten hours and fifty-five
minutes.It’s a somewhat daunting task
to review such a monumentally staged effort as this, one at least partially
conceived as a labor-of-love.The series
makes a noble effort to trace the history and the development of the horror
film from the silent era through the slasher films of the 1980s and a bit
beyond, not always neatly or logically compartmentalizing sub-genres as
“Dinosaurs,” “Aliens” “Gore,” “Mutants,” Scream Queens” etc. along the way.It’s a bit difficult to precisely date when host
and horror film icon Christopher Lee’s commentaries and introductory segments
were filmed.The set itself carries a
1996 copyright, but Lee makes an off-hand mention of the “new” Dracula film
starring Gary Oldman… which would date the saturnine actor’s participation to
1992 or thereabouts.Later in the set,
Lee references Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein,
which then confusingly forward dates the documentary to 1994.
It’s also unclear where this series was originally
destined.With its twenty-five minute
running time per episode, it would appear as if this twenty-six part series was
produced with the intent of television distribution in mind.100
Years of Horror is one of the earliest efforts of executive producer Dante
J. Pugliese who would carve out a career producing a number of these minimal
investment “clip show” style documentaries.This series first appeared as a 5 volume VHS set via Passport
International in the latter days of 1995, and has since enjoyed several DVD
releases; there were both cut-down versions and a
highly-sought-after-by-collectors box set issued in 2006.This new issue by Mill Creek not only brings
the set back into print with new packaging, but does so at a very reasonable
price point:MSRP: $14.98, and even
cheaper from the usual assortment of on-line merchants.
Perhaps acknowledging Christopher Lee’s contribution to
the legacy, the series first episode is fittingly dedicated to Dracula and his Disciples.Lee was, inarguably, one of the two most
iconic figures to essay the role of Count Dracula.Though Bela Lugosi’s halting speaking manner,
grey pallor and widow-peaked hairline remains the more iconic visual portraiture,
Lugosi actually only portrayed Count Dracula in a feature-length film twice: in
the 1931 original and, for the final time, in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).Lee, on the other hand, shot no less than seven
Dracula films for Hammer Studios and one for Jess Franco.Though he would log considerably more
cinematic hours on screen as the Prince of Darkness, the gentlemanly Lee
generously allows here that even some forty years following the actor’s death
in 1956, Bela Lugosi was still “inexorably linked” to the public’s persona of
Though he would never work with the actor – as he would on
two occasions with Lugosi’s occasional foil Boris Karloff - Lee recalled his first
attendance at a horror film in a cinema was Lugosi’s Dark Eyes of London (1939).Lugosi would, in some manner of speaking, unwittingly pave the way for
Lee’s future assumption in other similarly cloaked roles. As had his predecessor,
Lee would portray several other vampire characters on film that were Count Dracula
in all but name.Just as Lugosi would exploit
his image as Transylvania’s most famous resident in such films as Return of the Vampire and Mark of the Vampire, so would a fanged
Christopher Lee with such impersonations as Dracula
and Son and Uncle Was a Vampire.
The documentary makes clear that, no matter how celebrated
either man’s portrayal was, neither actor held dominion on the character.The film points out that several other actors
- Francis Lederer and Lon Chaney Jr. among them – have tackled the role to reasonable
degrees of satisfaction.It was also
pleasing to see a brief interview segment with one of my favorite Dracula’s,
the wizened John Carradine, captured in his eighties here.Carradine triumphantly recounts not only did
he appear as Dracula in “three” films for Universal (well, three, if you choose
to count his appearance on a 1977 episode of NBC-TV’s McCloud (“McCloud Meets Dracula”).Carradine was also mysteriously prideful of his appearing as a Count
Dracula-style character in several obscure films shot in Mexico (Las Vampiras) and the Philippines (the
outrageous and exploitative Vampire
Hookers).What the Mexican and
Filipino efforts might lack in comprehensibility and budget, they’re nonetheless
not-to-be-missed totems of low-brow Midnight Movie Madness.For whatever reason, Carradine made no
mention of his top-hatted participation the wild and wooly William (“One Shot”)
Beaudine western Billy the Kid vs.
Dracula (1966), a long-time “guilty pleasure” of mine.
The Warner Archive has released the 1970 counter-culture drama The Strawberry Statement. The film was released in an era of increasing unrest, sandwiched between the 1968 Chicago riots at the Democratic convention, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F. Kennedy and the shooting of student protesters at Kent State University (which, in a nightmarish example of unintended "good timing" occurred one month after the release of this film.) Although the movie was honored at the Cannes Film Festival, the general consensus was that, like Antonioni's more notorious failure Zabriskie Point, the film was an unfocused and unsuccessful attempt to play upon the unrest among young Americans during this era. Looking at the movie today, that criticism still holds up. The story centers on Simon (Bruce Davison), an apolitical student at a San Francisco university (it was actually filmed at Berkeley) who gradually becomes interested in the protest movement. Students are on strike and are occupying the dean's office (a not uncommon practice of the day) to protest the closing of a community playground for inner city children. The university, which owns the property, intends to put in an ROTC office temporarily, and then lease the land to big business. The students have succeeded in virtually closing down the university and Simon becomes more enamored with their cause. Before long he is occupying the dean's office, too, and begins a romantic relationship with a more radical protester, Linda (Kim Darby). The film meanders between their encounters, life on campus and anti-Establishment rallies. However, a clear depiction of the characters or their motivations is never provided. Simon is charismatic, but rather hollow. Linda is never presented in anything but a superficial manner. We know nothing of her background or motivations. There are no other major characters, though reliable supporting actors like Bud Cort, James Coco and Bob Balaban contribute positively.
The film's director, Stuart Hagmann, had a brief and rather undistinguished career, primarily highlighted by this MGM production. He relies on fast cuts, inventive camera angles and a score filled with rock and folk music provided by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Thunderclap Newman to compensate for the weak screenplay that had been based on a recently-published novel. The script by Israel Horovitz does provide some nuance in assessing protest movements. This was filmed during an era in which the military was draft was going full force, even as the Vietnam War was becoming increasingly unpopular. Adding insult to injury, the young people who fought that war weren't allowed to vote at the time because the voting age was 21. (Even today, with a voting age of 18, soldiers who are deemed old enough to drive tanks into combat can't legally enjoy a beer.) Consequently, presidential candidates who had run on a Vietnam withdrawal policy in 1968 (Senators Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy), had enormous support from a base that could not vote for them. The war that had been started by Democrats and escalated by the newly-elected Republican President, Richard Nixon, seemed to be a quagmire that would go on forever. (Curiously, our Afghanistan quagmire was started by a Republican president and escalated by a Democratic president, so not much has changed in terms of the political Establishment.) Where The Strawberry Statement succeeds is in its depiction of the various motives those who comprise a protest movement might have. Some are true believers, some are idealists, some are just weak-willed followers, and others just want to get laid in the name of upholding democracy. Radical protesters complain about a lack of freedom and rights, even as they ironically decorate their dorm rooms with posters of Che Guevara, a man who sacrificed his life in an attempt to tear down dictatorships even as he courted the totalitarian state of Fidel Castro. There are rather pretentious uses of film clips of key political figures of the day including H. Rap Brown and President Nixon, who is seen serenading White House guests while playing Home on the Range on the piano. There must be significance to this somewhere, but it comes across as bizarre. The film does show how even the most sincere political protest movements, from the Tea Party on the right and the Occupy movement on the left, inevitably become defined by the crazy fringe element that often negates the validity of their message. (In this film, protesters assail police officers, using their "Peace Now" signs as instruments of destruction.) The film succeeds in capturing the craziness of the era in the final, harrowing sequence in which an army of policeman brutally assail students at a sit-in, who are peacefully signing "Give Peace a Chance." Here, director Hagmann finds his stride and provides a truly mesmerizing sequence. However, despite the fine performances of the cast, the film falls short of its overall potential.
The cataclysmic prison riot near the end of The
Big House (1930) reaches such a fevered pitch that army tanks are called in to
combat the inmates. The tanks roll into the prison yard like armor-plated
creatures, and then, unexpectedly, start rolling towards
the screen, towards the viewer. What did movie audiences think in 1930 as these
shiny, black, menacing machines moved towards them? By the riot's end, a
single tank crashes through a wall, its main gun slowly swiveling, as sinister anything
in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.It’s
impressive even now, watching on an Acer laptop in 2014. What was it like in
one of the vaunted movie palaces of yesteryear? Did audiences cheer
because the army was going to save the day? Or was there some fear, too, fear
that the machines were coming not just for criminals, but for everybody…
The Big House, now available on DVD as part of the Warner Bros Archive
Collection, was a spectacular success for MGM, and ushered in the prison movie
as a viable genre. Films had been set in prisons before,
but it was The Big House that established the characters and themes that would
mark the genre forever (ie. the scared new guy, the crusty lifers, the
conniving weasel, the kindly old guard, the dour but ineffectual warden, the inevitable
jail break, etc.). The film was also a marked contrast to the slick
films made by MGM at the time, causing Chester B. Bahn of the Syracuse Herald
to write that this "stark tragedy" was "so horrible, so
devastating, that you don't want to think about it, don't want to talk about
Although prison movies weren't churned out the way westerns and horror movies
were during the 1930s, the subject undoubtedly had legs. We still see
prison movies today, as well as TV shows (of both the scripted and “non-scripted”
variety). But every prison movie or show we see now has something of The Big
House in its DNA. The Big House did it first, and I’m not sure if any
modern prison movies have done it any better. More explicit, perhaps, but
For one thing, The Big House was unabashedly artsy. Directed by George Hill
with photography by Harold Wenstrom, the film is framed by rich, deep blacks
that gave the atmosphere a harder edge than most black and white films of the
day. A more accurate description of the film would be “black & grey,” for
there isn’t much white in it. Grey is the color of the prison uniform,
and grey is the color of the detainees’ pasty complexions. The prison is a
murky place, and when a con is being marched into the “dungeon” to serve some
time in solitary, it’s as if he’s being marched into the very wings of
The opening scene follows a truck filled with new prisoners as it approaches
the monolithic, unnamed building. There’s something about the scene that
looks like an illustration come to life, especially when the prisoners step out
of the truck and appear incredibly tiny as they march into the prison. Kent
(Robert Montgomery) is a newbie, sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter after
killing a man in a car accident. He’s thrown into a cramped cell with two
legitimately bad men, Butch (Wallace Beery) and Morgan (Chester Morris).
One of the warden’s aids laments that a young kid doesn’t stand a chance in a
cell with such hard cases, to which the warden agrees that overcrowding and
idleness are the banes of the prison system. Kent’s journey through
prison life, though, is only part of the story. The film's
greatness comes from the interplay between Butch and Morgan, for they are
two hardened criminals who lean on each other to get through their dreary days.
Butch is downright sadistic, the sort of brute who harasses people only to back
off and say, “I was only kidding.” He’s allegedly murdered several people,
including a few of his past girlfriends, but one never knows if he’s serious or
not. He also lets his temperament get the best of him, even turning on his
buddy Morgan more than once during the film. Morgan, meanwhile, falls for
Kent’s sister (Leila Hyams) when he spots her during visiting hours.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVE
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Remember that scene in Mel Brooks' The Producers when the first performance of Springtime for Hitler has just been performed for an opening night crowd on Broadway? The camera pans around the silent audience to show people sitting slack-jawed, mouths agape at the travesty they have just witnessed. I had a similar experience watching Sextette for the first time. Mind you, as a long time retro movie analyst, I was well-aware of the film's reputation as a notorious misfire. However, no criticism can quite prepare anyone for the experience of actually watching this bizarre spectacle unfold before your eyes. Scorpion Video has made that possible with a special edition DVD release of the 1978 musical comedy that was to be Mae West's second attempt to make a big screen comeback. (The first, the notorious 1970 bomb Myra Breckenridge, outraged her when she saw the final cut.) Sextette went into production in 1976, produced by "Briggs and Sullivan", a headed-for-oblivion duo whose pretentious billing perhaps unwittingly brings to mind circus masters Barnum and Bailey. The producers had acquired the rights to West's play Sextet, which apparently resulted in legal and censorship problems for the great screen diva way back when it was first presented. By the time it was dusted off for audiences in the 1970s, we were already living in an era in which Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice could comfortably slip between the sheets together, thus rendering the sexual humor in West's farce seem about as daring as a Disney production.
The film, directed by the generally admirable Ken Hughes (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), presents West as Marlo Manners, a legendary diva of the cinema who still causes hearts to flutter whenever she makes a public appearance. When we first see her (a full 8 minutes into the movie), she is checking into a London hotel to enjoy her honeymoon with her latest (and sixth husband), handsome young Sir Michael Barrington (Timothy Dalton). It isn't long before Barrington realizes that Marlo has a fanatical fan base and a seemingly endless string of former and would-be lovers clamoring for her attention. Among them, some ex-husbands including a crazy movie director (Ringo Starr) and a gangster who was presumed dead (George Hamilton). Then there is a Soviet diplomat (Tony Curtis) who is the central figure in a world peace conference that coincidentally happens to be taking place in the same hotel. Add to the zany mix her hyper-active business manager (Dom DeLuise), a singing waiter (Alice Cooper!) and a fey dress designer (The Who's Keith Moon) and you probably have to admire whoever managed to get this eclectic group of talented people together, even if they all should have known better. West's old pal George Raft even shows up and rides an elevator with her. The razor-thin plots involves Marlo trying to consummate her marriage to Barrington, who is a naive virgin who inadvertently implies to Hollywood gossip guru Rona Barrett that he is gay. In fact, just about the only audience that might derive any visual pleasure from the film are gay males, due to the abundance of scantily-clad muscle men who flex their abs every time Marlo walks by. To make matters even more bizarre, the cast occasionally breaks out into songs as though this was some old Busby Berkeley musical. The nadir of this is reached when an understandably embarrassed Dalton is forced to sing the Captain and Tennille's Love Will Keep Us Together to his on-screen bride. (Presumably, Dalton left this achievement off his credentials or he probably wouldn't have ended up playing James Bond.) In the midst of this madness, Marlo also barges in on the peace conference and convinces all the diplomats (including Walter Pidgeon!) to engage in some kumbaya moments of diplomacy.
West was certainly a screen legend in her time and one of the most liberated women in show business. You have to admire her for promoting women's lib and sexual freedom in an era in which most people were tone deaf to such sentiments. However, knowing when to quit was obviously not one of her attributes. As Marlo brings twenty-something men to states of sexual frenzy in Sextette, you keep waiting for at least one joke regarding the fact that the woman was in her 80s when the film was made. Unfortunately, throughout the entire movie, no such realization is apparent. Men salivate over her, as West creaks stiffly from frame to frame looking like the Marie Antoinette figure from Madame Tussaud's wax museum. West had parlayed her limited schtick of tossing off sexually suggestive one-liners into a full time screen career, not so much acting as merely quipping. It may have worked great in her prime opposite Cary Grant and W.C. Fields, but it's a sad spectacle to see Ringo Starr try to control his urges in her presence. The only cast member to emerge unscathed is DeLuise, who gives an energetic and amusing performance that even sees him jumping atop a piano and engaging in an impressive tap dance.
The Scorpion DVD transfer is excellent and includes an extensive and spellbinding interview with Ian Whitcomb, who served as a music consultant on the film. A good friend of Mae West's, he relates affectionate tales of their relationship and provides some uncomfortable details about the filming. (West would periodically seem to lose her powers of concentration and often had to have her lines read to her through an ear piece.) He also reads entries from his diary that were written during production. There is also a very informative on-screen essay by film critic Dennis Dermody that explores the film's disastrous reception by critics and the public. An original TV spot is also included.
Sextette easily manages to gain that rare status of being so bad it's good. You must add this DVD to your collection.
(Look for an article about the making of the film in Cinema Retro #26)
If you're generally in the mood for light, uplifting movies, chances are you aren't enamored of the boxing genre. To be sure, the wonderful "Rocky" films assured viewers of a happy, upbeat ending, but they were marketed for mass audience appeal. On the other side of the coin, most of the films that explore the ironically nicknamed "Sweet Science" of boxing center on the gritty underbelly of the sport. As far back as Wallace Beery's "The Champ" through "Champion", "Requiem for a Heavyweight", "Fat City" and "Raging Bull", the general theme has been to present the peculiar world of boxing and boxers as one of unrelenting cruelty, exploitation, double-crosses and physical punishment. Small wonder that few such films had viewers emerging from theaters with broad smiles on their faces. Yet, the boxing genre is a reliable staple when it comes to presenting thoroughly engrossing tales and the latest entry, a low-budget British film, "Jawbone" can justifiably take its place among the major achievements in the genre.
You probably never heard of "Jawbone". which had a very limited theatrical release in the UK and is now making its debut in America through a DVD release from Lionsgate. I had no expectations for the movie but decided to give the review screener a try, as I've always had a weakness for boxing films."Jawbone" grabs you from the very first frames. We see the central character, Jimmy McCabe (Johnny Harris) in the depths of depression, sitting night after night in the dock areas of London and under the city's bridges swilling down hard liquor from a bottle. We learn that he is destitute and about to be evicted from his childhood home which he shared with his beloved mother, who passed away some months before. He's offered housing by the local council but he stubbornly refuses. It's a battle he can't win and he ends up homeless. We learn he was once a boxer of some repute and out of desperation, he returns to the gritty gym where he once trained. The owner, Bill Carney (Ray Winstone), was once Jimmy's mentor, a function he still provides for street kids from the neighborhood he continues to train. Jimmy lost Bill's respect when he began his downward spiral, but he implores his old friend to give him one more chance by allowing him to train at the gym and to lodge there as well. Bill has a heart-to-heart talk with Jimmy and informs him that any return to his bad habits will see him permanently banned from the gym. Grateful, Jimmy joins Alcoholics Anonymous but is so ashamed of his transgressions that he can't accept the outpouring of support from the other members. Still, he resists taking to the bottle and begins an intense period of training. Bill and his partner Eddie ((Michael Smiley) recognize that he still has some of his old abilities and support his efforts at redemption. However, Jimmy desperately needs some money so he seeks out an old acquaintance, Joe Padgett (Ian McShane), a superficially friendly fight promoter who specializes in matches that are so brutal they aren't officially recognized.The smarmy Joe treats the starving Jimmy to a fat steak dinner and advances him a couple of hundred quid- then tells him he can arrange for him to make some sure money by participating in grueling off-the-grid match against a particularly vicious, undefeated opponent. He warns that Jimmy will probably be pulverized but the loser is guaranteed a paltry 2500 pounds, of which Joe will take a 50% slice.
"Jawbone" follows some well-worn story elements of the genre. We see Jimmy rally his strength, train to the point of exhaustion and arrive at the big match. He finds it closer to the experience of being a gladiator in ancient Rome. There are the bare bones symbols of civility: a referee and a busty ring girl who holds up a sign announcing each round. but the only rule is not to hit below the waist. Anything and everything else goes. Jimmy finds himself the underdog amidst a roaring crowd of barbarians who are cheering on the vicious champion. The fight that follows is as terrifically exciting and well-filmed as any you've seen in more commercial boxing movies. But "Jawbone" is about much more than this one exciting sequence. It's about the human condition and the ability- or inability- of one man to conquer his personal demons. The film is superbly acted with writer/star Johnny Harris giving the kind of performance that generally gets BAFTA and Oscar recognition. Similarly, the supporting cast is superb with Winstone and Smiley particularly good and McShane riveting in his small but pivotal role. Much credit goes to director Thomas Napper, a highly regarded second-unit director on numerous blockbuster films, who breaks out as a director of great skill with this film. Although "Jawbone" has many elements of the traditional boxing film, it steadfastly avoids the predictable love story. There isn't a love interest for Jimmy because he can barely keep himself alive. Harris's script resonates with great, believable dialogue and the film is complimented by a fine musical score by Paul Weller, excellent cinematography by Tat Radcliffe and editing by David Charap. Everything about "Jawbone" is impressive, especially the fact that Harris and Napper manage to convey a great deal of emotion into the brief 90 minute running time. There isn't a wasted frame and by the film's emotional climax you realize it didn't need to run a second longer. This is economic filmmaking at its best. The movie is an outstanding achievement for all concerned and one can only gripe that it didn't get the theatrical distribution it so richly deserved. However, the Lionsgate DVD offers a very fine transfer and a very interesting "making of" documentary that describes how the bare bones production came together and ended up looking so good. There is also a gallery of trailers for other Lionsgate releases.
"Jawbone" is one of the best indie films I've seen in quite some time. If you'll excuse an unpardonable pun, it's a knockout.
Twilight Time has released a Blu-ray edition of the
biting social satire The Hospital.
By 1971, the playwright Paddy Chayefsky was considered so
revered that he remains the only writer that comes to mind who could demand a
possessive credit on films he wrote the screenplays for. (The film’s titles
were followed by the credit “By Paddy Chayefsky”). Such a case is The Hospital, a film that was highly
acclaimed in its day and voted into the National Film Registry in America in
1995, signifyingits status as a
classic. Why, then, consider it a “long over-looked film”? Because the virtues
of The Hospital were overshadowed by
Chayefsky’s 1976 masterpiece Network, a
glossier and more outrageous movie that resonated even more soundly with
audiences and critics. Consequently, The
Hospital is rarely discussed in critical circles and seen even less on the
big screen within the art house circuits. Yet, the power of this film is as
timely as ever.
Non-American audiences may well scratch their collective
heads over the on-going, increasingly contentious debate over the health care
system in the United States.In order to
explore the premise of The Hospital, its
relevance must be placed within the context of this debate. In the post-WWII
world, almost every modern, industrialized nation installed a form of national
health care. In America, however, it remained a “for profit” system that gave
insurers every incentive to deny sick people coverage. Virtually everyone in
America agrees that the system has become hopelessly broken but despite the
fact that the uninsured rate in America is now at an all-time low, the debate
over the merits of President Obama’s attempts to the health care system remain
largely split on the basis of one’s political party- and millions remain
without coverage. Paddy Chayefsky foresaw the ultimate collapse of the system.
His screenplay places the crisis in a localized level- specifically one
over-burdened New York City hospital that is desperately trying to stay open in
a bizarro world where the need for profits often trumps the incentive to provide
proper care. The sequences in which an
omnipresent aspect of the emergency room is a bureaucrat who harasses
critically ill patients to produce proof of their medical insurance is a daily
occurrence in hospitals across the USA.
Chayefsky views the crisis through the eyes of Dr. Bock
(George C. Scott), a weather-beaten, revered doctor who is not only going
through a mid-life crisis of divorce and impotence, but who is chronically
depressed because his life’s goal of helping the sick has been converted into
dealing with a monstrous administrative system that is out of control. Bock gamely
soldiers on, trying to bring sense to the madhouse he oversees, even has he
contemplates suicide on a daily basis. When a string of mysteriousmurders with comical overtones take place at
the hospital, Bock finds himself taking on the role of detective, as well. He
does find time for an intense fling with Barbara (Diana Rigg), a free-spirited
young woman who is intent on taking her
crazed father from his sick bed and returning to their hippie lifestyle on an
Indian reservation.She tempts Bock to
give up his high pressure career and join her.The chemistry between Scott and Rigg is dynamic and Chayefsky gives them
one of his trademark sequences characterized by extended dialogue that allows
both actors to showcase their brilliance on screen. (Chayefsky wrote a similar
sequence between William Holden and Beatrice Straight in Network) It’s a sheer joy to listen to Scott and Rigg speak the
superb dialogue and enact the sequence with such passion. In today’s era in
which seemingly every film is based on cheesy CGI effects, it’s even more of a
treasure to relish Chayefsky’s writing.
you go down in deep water, you’re scared. You don’t know how scared you can be.
Soon, you forget. But the reef never forgets. It just waits.”—Gilbert Roland as
“Beneath the 12-Mile Reef,” released in a limited edition
(3,000 copies) Blu-ray by Twilight Time, is either the second or third movie
ever made in Cinemascope. “The Robe” was the first, and “How to Marry a
Millionaire” was in production at the same time as “Reef” so there’s some
dispute about the release chronology. Basically “Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” is
Romeo and Juliet set in the sponge-diving world around Tarpon Springs, Fla.
with a young Robert Wagner and Terry Moore as the “sponge-crossed” couple.
Wagner plays Tony Petrakis, son of Mike (Gilbert Roland), one of the best Greek
sponge divers in the business. Moore plays Gwyneth Rhys, daughter of Thomas
Rhys (Richard Boone) the leader of the Conches, the Anglo “hook boat” sponge
fishermen. According to the script by A.I. Bezzerides, there’s no love lost
between the two factions. Greeks stay out in the deep water, the Conches fish
in the shallow waters of the Everglades.
Times are tough for the Greeks, however. The sponges are
disappearing. And Mike owes money to a loan shark who threatens to take his
boat. Mike and his family have two choices. They can go out to the 12-Mile Reef
where Mike already lost one of his sons or they can try moving into the Everglades—
Conch territory. They try the Everglades and do okay until Conch Arnold Dix
(Peter Graves) shows up with some buddies, threatens to cut Mike’s air hose and
grabs their sponge haul. When Mike gets back to Tarpon Springs he looks the
Conches up at their favorite watering haul to settle the score. There Mike
meets Rhys and Dix but violence is prevented when cops show up. Meanwhile,
young Tony and Gwyneth catch love at first sight and run off together while the
grownups are arguing. Wagner, complete with hair dyed black and permed to make
him look Greek, plays Tony as the young stud trying to get out from under the
shadow of his macho father, who calls him “Little Tony.” Moore plays a goofy
girl gaga over handsome Tony, even though Dix thinks he’s her boyfriend.
“Beyond the 12-Mile Reef” has plenty of plot
complications, which only get worse when Mike decides his only recourse is to
dive the 12-Mile Reef. On the way out to the reef, Roland, in one of his best
performances as a tough but tender-hearted macho man, gives the speech quoted
above, telling Tony he can’t let him dive because it’s too dangerous.
I don’t want to give too much more of the plot away. It’s
a very simple story with very broad characters, and admittedly has a totally
unbelievable ending. I’ve read a lot of nasty reviews of the film that dismiss it
as shallow melodrama with some critics, even faulting screenwriter Bezzerides
for inventing the sociological issues posed by the conflict between the Greeks
and the Conches. But who cares about that?
“Beneath the 12-Mile Reef” on Blu-ray is an exceptionally
entertaining movie for several reasons. First is the on-location Cinemascope
photography shot around Tarpon Springs and Key West by Edward Cronjager. Director
Robert D. Webb uses Cronjager’s camera to capture a lot of the local color and
some of the culture of the Greek divers. I’ve been to Tarpon Springs and it
doesn’t look much different today. The underwater scenes are spectacular. Second
is a near-perfect music score by the inestimable Bernard Herrmann. Bernie
outdoes himself with this soundtrack, providing a truly sensory experience that
makes you feel your down in the water with the divers. Third, is the presence
of two great actors in the cast. Roland and Boone provide the anchor for this
film, giving it a weight its two fledgling co-stars simply didn’t have. Enough
cannot be said about Roland, who never fails to give his characters a sense of
“stature” as he so eloquently put it in “The Lady and the Bullfighter.” Boone as
Rhys has the authority needed to play a man who all the Conches look up to.
favourite Spaghetti Western theme song – and I stress theme song, not theme music
– is Roberto Fia’s splendidly triumphant rendition of composer Luis Bacalov’s ‘Django’.
The only one that comes close to challenging it for my affection is ‘Angel Face’,
the opening credits ballad from A Pistol for Ringo (o.t. Una pistola per Ringo),
Graf Maurizio’s silky vocal marrying up with Ennio Morricone’s passionate
melody to forge a little scoop of sorrow-tinged nectar. And although I confess
that my knowledge of Italian westerns is criminally deficient, of the titles I
have actually seen I’d unhesitatingly cite A Pistol for Ringo among my
in 1965, the film was directed by Duccio Tessari, an uncredited co-writer on
the previous year’s uber-classic A Fistful of Dollars. Part of the appeal of
Tessari’s film is that the story takes place on the run up to Christmas,
although being as sun-baked southern Spain is doubling for the Wild West it’s
an exceptionally balmy one. Nevertheless, the inclusion of tinsel-decked trees,
Christmas dinner and even a carol or two embroider the proceedings with a
festive ambience conspicuously rare – perhaps even unique (I reiterate that my
knowledge is lacking) – in Spaghetti Western terrain.
a couple of days before Christmas in the town of Quemado and ruthless Mexican
bandit Sancho (Fernando Sancho) and his gang have plundered the bank of its entire
cash reserve. Their escape route to the border cut off by pursuing lawmen, the
bandits hole up at the hacienda of Major Clyde (Antonio Hasas) where they take everyone
hostage, including Clyde’s daughter Ruby (Hally Hammond), who also happens to
be the fiancée of the Sheriff (George Martin). Under siege, Sancho threatens to
kill two hostages a day until the law agrees to back off and let them ride away
unhindered. Desperate for help, the Sheriff turns to scar-cheeked gunslinger
Angel Face (Montgomery Wood) – Ringo to his friends – who’s currently locked up
in the town jail on a quadruple murder charge. He makes Ringo a proposal: infiltrate
the gang, eliminate them and rescue the hostages and he’ll be rewarded with 30%
of the retrieved cash and exonerated of his crimes.
Tessari co-scripted A Pistol for Ringo, his fifth feature film, with Alfonso
Balcázar. Casting Montgomery Wood in his debut starring role was a
masterstroke; Wood is actually the nom de guerre of former stuntman Giuliano
Gemma – all the better for performing his own gags, which include crashing
through a ceiling to land upright on a grand piano and leaping from a galloping
steed. Gemma has a scorching intensity about him and he gifts the self-serving
Ringo with an affable personality and a cunning, cocksure attitude in the face
of adversity. He also prefers milk to hard liquor and has a habit of dishing
out pearls of wisdom at felicitous moments (“Never cry for a dead person – it’s
pointless.”). He’s introduced playing hopscotch with some children, breaks off
to take down a quartet of gunmen with the matter-of-factness of swatting flies,
finishes up the game and strolls casually away. This is a guy who, with three
bad guys still to be disposed of, realises he only has one bullet left in his
gun and yet somehow still manages to pull it off. You’d really not want to be
looking down the business end of Ringo’s six-shooter, but just the same he’s a
very likeable anti-hero figure.
Sancho meanwhile makes for a nicely greasy villain, coincidentally also named
Sancho. He shares some great scenes with Gemma, the best of which finds Sancho
threatening to put a bullet through the bound Ringo’s head, only to find
himself compelled to relent time and again as our unflustered hero convinces
him he’s a valuable asset best kept alive – and what’s more his help is going
to cost Sancho an ever-escalating cut of the booty! There’s even some gentle
humour thrown in during a gathering ‘round the piano to sing carols, with
Sancho awkwardly mumbling his way through “Silent Night”.
Hammond is actually Lorella De Luca, director Tessari’s wife, and she
brings a measure of prim sex appeal to the show, although beyond playing
vulnerable she isn’t given too much to do – at least not until the finale when
she finally gets her hands on a shotgun. Meanwhile Nieves Navarro (wife of the
film’s co-producer Luciano Ercoli) fills the role of sultry bad girl rather
deliciously; despite the fact she’s one of the intruders in wealthy landowner
Antonio Hasas’s home, he has an amorous eye on her – and who can blame him? Amiable
Manuel Muñiz is in situ primarily for light relief.
of light relief, in my limited experience of Italian westerns they generally
tend to be more brutal than their American counterparts, but A Pistol for Ringo
is a bloodless, pretty frivolous affair, more mischievous in tone than one
might expect from the sub-genre. That tone is established in the first few
seconds as two unsmiling gunslingers stride towards each other and then, as
opposed to drawing their weapons as anticipated, wish each other a Merry
Christmas. To be fair the story itself is no great shakes, I can’t defend it, but
regardless of any shortcomings this is very respectable fare that gallops along
at a lively pace and – as do the best of them – leaves you wanting more.
Though we’re only a few months into 2018, I’m already dead
certain that Shout! Factory’s brand new Blu-ray edition of Joe Dante’s Matinee (1993) will be regarded as one
of the most generous, lovingly produced and expansive reissues of the
year.This remarkable set offers nearly
three hours of beautifully constructed bonus materials to supplement the actual
feature’s ninety-nine minute running time.In case you’re wondering, the short answer is, “Yes.” It’s officially now time to retire your
treasured Laserdisc copy of Matinee as
well as the now-rendered-totally-inconsequential bare bones DVD issued by
Universal in 2010.
an undeniably warm and wonderful film, an affectionate but quirky Valentine.In a series of amazing supplemental features
included with this set, several key members of the film’s creative team suggest
the movie was, in essence, director Joe Dante’s (Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins) very personal love letter to the
art of the B-movie.Critically praised,
but not commercially successful upon its release in early winter of 1993,
Shout! Factory has added this title to its “Shout Select” catalogue designed to
“shine a light” on “unheralded gems.”This film is certainly one such deserved
jewel, but Matinee Director of Photography
John Hora appears less dreamy eyed than some when offering his own honest post-assessment.
Cognizant that the Hollywood industry was just that, an industry, it was Hora’s contention that
regardless of the immaculate staging and wonderful storytelling of Dante’s very
personal film, he suggested the director would need to pursue a more
traditional career path following the indulgence of Matinee.The age of making
films for what Hora would describe – perhaps too dismissively - as a
“specialized audience,” had passed.Making more marketplace films for consumption by a more general public of
cinemagoers would be the only guarantor of future employment.
If Hora offered a tough in-hindsight assessment, it was
not an unreasonable one.Dante himself
would recall that no one, neither early on at Warner Bros. nor later at Universal,
were particularly optimistic about the film’s potential as box office dynamite.Acknowledging the project as a labor-of-love,
Dante accepted his tribute to the “B-movie” magic of days long gone might best be
realized as an independent film project. When Dante’s early investors reneged
on their promises of bankrolling the production, the director was forced to
negotiate directly with the juggernaut that was Universal Studios for
financing. In Dante’s own recollection, Universal’s accountants emerged shakily
from the board room giving the eccentric project a nervous, wary blessing.It was a rare industry moment, the director
would concede with a sigh, when “Passion won over reason.”
In hindsight Dante mused that Universal’s green lighting
of Matinee was to “my everlasting
gratitude, their everlasting regret.”The film is undeniably brilliant cinema and
most assuredly a wonderful time capsule piece; but it was in design and intent an
indie film, one not likely destined for blockbuster status.Dante’s original idea was to bring the film
out in limited release in art house cinemas.He hoped positive word-to-mouth might help create a buzz, and was
confident that this film – one designed for cineastes
in mind - would be met with favorable critical appraisal.But in 1993 Universal was a corporate titanic
that dropped their films into blanketing nationwide release for a quick return
on investment.Sadly, Matinee was too insular a film to appeal
to a mass audience, finishing a disappointing sixth even in its first week or
Originally in development at Warner Bros., writer Jerico
Stone’s original screenplay of Matinee
– which Dante described as a “fantasy” concerning nostalgic friends who
congregate one night at a haunted neighborhood theater - would differ wildly
from the final product.Though Stone,
billed simply as “Jerico,” would share on-screen credit along with screenwriter
Charlie Haas for the original story, he would, much aggrieved, later litigate
unsuccessfully against the Writer’s Guild for screenplay credit.In any event, Warner Bros. would eventually
pass on Stone’s early unmarketable treatment, as would several other
studios.Undeterred, Dante chose to
bring in fellow New Jersey “Monster Kid” and writer Ed Naha (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) to take a
whack at the script.It was Naha who wove
in the un-credited idea of a beloved TV-horror film host (ala WCAU and WABC’s Zacherley) coming to visit a
neighborhood bijou to promote the latest offering of low-budget cinematic
it was announced that Flowers in the Attic was lined up for its UK Blu-ray
debut, it occurred to me that I had no real memory of my one and only dip into
writer-director Jeffrey Bloom’s adaptation of the controversial, best-selling
Virginia (V.C.) Andrews novel – which I guess would have been right back upon
its initial release in 1987. Interest to revisit it duly piqued, my
anticipation was tempered a tad by the sense that being unable to remember it had
surely to be indicative that it wasn’t actually very good. Although it still
amuses me that a guy named Bloom wrote and directed a film with Flowers in the
title, regrettably my reservations proved well founded. It really is rather
awful. There be spoilers ahead!
the death of her husband, Corinne Dollenganger (Victoria Tennant) falls on hard
times and is forced to return, with her four children in tow, to the childhood
home she left in disgrace 17 years earlier. Corinne’s puritanical mother, Fran
(Louise Fletcher), isn’t best pleased to see them and, although she evidently
despises both her own daughter and the grandchildren she’s never met, she
reluctantly allows them to stay, telling them that she’ll give them food and
shelter but never kindness and love. The children (Jeb Stuart Adams, Kristy
Swanson, Ben Ganger and Lindsay Parker) remain upstairs out of sight, whilst
Corinne makes an effort to reconnect with her bedridden, dying father (Marshall
Colt). She tells the siblings that if she’s able to atone for her past
transgressions before he dies, and most importantly convince him that she never
had children, then he’ll write her back into his will and they’ll be well-heeled
for the rest of their lives. But as the days pass it becomes apparent that the
children have become prisoners – visited in their locked room only to be fed –
and Corinne becomes ever more distant, spending less and less time with them.
What can she possibly have done all those years ago that was so terrible? And
what is the purpose of those four child-sized holes being dug in the woods?
sounds rather intriguing, doesn’t it? An adaptation of the first in a quartet
of novels (with a tweaked denouement) it’s certainly a nice set up; once the
family receive a frosty welcome at grandma’s abode all the pieces are in place
for a potentially gripping and increasingly sinister tale. Unfortunately, things
quickly devolve into a bit of a slog, the various plot turns becoming ever more
irksome as the children – who are far from dullards – fail to do what anyone
with half a brain cell trapped in their situation would.
When you think of a touching movie about the adventures of an elderly man and his beloved cat, chances are "Harry and Tonto" springs to mind. However, there is another worthwhile movie that merits a look, even if it doesn't boast Art Carney in his Oscar-winning performance. "Frank and the Wondercat" is a 2015 documentary by Pablo Alvarez-Mesa and Tony Massil that won acclaim on the film festival circuit a few years ago. It's now been released on DVD by BrinkVision and is streaming on Amazon Prime. Ostensibly, it's an amusing tale that follows 80 year-old Pittsburgh native Frank Furko as he reminisces about Pudgie Wudgie, his tabby cat of fourteen years who was not only his constant companion, but the center of his life as well. However, as the movie progresses it becomes a poignant examination of sentiment, loneliness and dignity in old age. Frank learned early on that Pudgie was somewhat unique among cats in that he was agreeable to being dressed up in all types of exotic costumes and disguises. Pudgie was also adept at learning some tricks that could be performed on stage. For Frank, he proved to be the perfect tonic following a divorce after 20 years of marriage. Before long, Frank became a local sensation even in the era in which "hi tech" meant VHS tapes, upon which Frank dutifully recorded all of Pudgie's appearances. From charity performances to fairs to schools to local TV stations, Frank and Pudgie's legend grew. The documentary makes good use of the battered VHS archives Frank keeps stuffed in drawers inside his cluttered home, which is a monument to his departed best friend. We see gloriously scratchy videos with garish colors as we relive Frank and Pudgie's moments of glory. There is also a clip from the nationally-syndicated "Maury Povich Show" where Pudgie won first prize in a pet contest and Frank discusses how the duo were invited to New York to appear on David Letterman's show. But the comedic aspects of the film are matched by the moving examination of Frank's personal life now that Pudgie is gone. He reflects on his early life and relives painful episodes with his strict father, his undying love for his late mother and his on-going dedication to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFL team maintains a museum where there is a wall dedicated to Frank and Pudgie, who never missed a game. (Pudgie would attend in full fan regalia.) We watch as Frank stands by the wall and explains to passersby just how special the Frank and Pudgie team were to local fans. We also see him pay visits to the cemetery where Pudgie is buried in the same plot as Frank's parents (albeit they didn't get their images engraved on the stone.) Frank shows off stacks of condolence letters he received from people everywhere upon Pudgie's passing. It's clear they still provide a much-needed balm for his ailing soul.
"Frank and the Wondercat" is emblematic of the many fine documentaries that often go unnoticed. Fortunately, for this one there is a happy ending with its exposure on DVD and Amazon Prime. Filmmakers Alvarez-Mesa and Massil never mock or exploit their subject and present Frank and his story in a dignified manner. He's eccentric, to be sure, but he's a lovable eccentric. One would think that their film is appreciated by him as the grand achievement of his "partnership" with Pudgie. You don't have to be a cat a lover to admire the movie, but if you are, chances are you'll end up loving it.
One need not be an enthusiast of silent-era cinema to
find Bill Morrison’s illuminating Dawson
City: Frozen Time a totally engrossing, masterfully assembled
documentary.Anyone with even a passing
interest in the history of the 19th and 20th centuries,
of the Klondike Gold Rush, of film preservation, or of time-capsule newsreel
footage will find this film absolutely fascinating and rewarding.Aside from a bit of on-screen prefatory and postscript
talking-head commentary - courtesy of the two surviving and earliest on-site “lost
film” investigators - most of Morrison’s two-hour long film is presented to us as
an intriguing mosaic; an emotive montage expertly combining the imagery of
long-lost vintage newsreels, miraculously salvaged snippets of silent film
footage, and an astonishing series of rescued glass-plate negative photographs –
the latter courtesy of Klondike Gold Rush chronicler Eric Hegg (1867-1947).
There is, perhaps surprisingly, no accompanying audio
narration present on the soundtrack, as combination director/editor/writer Morrison
chose to share the tale almost exclusively through visuals alone.His documentary, in a sense, mimics how a vintage
silent film itself would unspool before us.It’s this composite of photographs, film reels, broadsides, and vintage
newspaper clippings alone that propel the narrative forward. Morrison’s own succinctly
composed inter-titles are overlaid images to provide necessary detail or to impart
historical context.Alex Somers’ moody
and evocative musical score perfectly underpins the gentle historical drama.
The film begins, fittingly, in 1978, more or less at the mystery’s
starting point in a remote Canadian township.It was in the summer of that year when a backhoe operated by the town’s
Pentecostal minister unearthed a most curious discovery:hundreds upon hundreds of film canisters dating
1903 through 1929 were found buried in the permafrost beneath Dawson City’s moribund
recreation center.Thankfully, and with
the gratitude of scholars and filmgoers worldwide, the backhoe operator chose to
engage a work stoppage.Rather than
plough the canisters forever and for all time into oblivion, he decided it prudent
to contact local authorities about this mysterious trove of unearthed film reels.This unusual cache of film prints – most in
various stages of decomposition - was first brought to the attention of Michael
Gates of the Canadian Parks Service.Sensing this find might be an important one, Gates brought in an expert,
Sam Kula, director of Canada’s National Film, Television, and Sound Archives.Shortly after, Kathy Jones, the director of
the Dawson City Museum, was also brought in to assist and help monitor the
Ultimately some 1,500 reels of film were excavated from
the construction site, though – frustratingly - only three hundred and
seventy-two or so of these were eventually deemed salvageable.The enormity of the find - combined with the
fact that many of the unearthed films were identified as early Hollywood
productions - caused the National Archives of Canada to enlist the assistance
of the U.S. Library of Congress.Together the cultural branches of both Canada and the U.S. were able to
save and restore some 533 reels – to one degree or another – salvaging what an
inter-title describes as the “last remnants of 372 silent film titles.”The 372 reels that did survive were found
beneath a former ice skating rink/swimming pool housed inside the old community
recreation center, once owned and operated by the Dawson Amateur Athletic
Association.It was in 1929 that the
film canisters were ingloriously deposited as landfill under the rink at center-ice,
a clumsily engineered attempt to smooth over the complaints of skaters fretting
about the unevenness of the surface at midpoint.
McQueen steals a high valued automobile from a wealthy Mississippi family and heads
to Memphis with two friends in order to woo a prostitute. He gets involved with
a horse race and learns a thing or two about life. This isn’t a Steve McQueen
action movie, but it is the basic plot of “The Reivers,” a 1969 movie based on
the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by William Faulkner and available on Blu-ray from
Kino Lorber. Part road movie and part coming-of-age story, this is the second
feature directed by Mark Rydell. “The Reivers” is dipped in Southern
sensibility and cinematographer Richard Moore gives 1905 Mississippi a
nostalgic dream-like appearance. A reiver is a thief and Steve McQueen plays
Boon Hogganbeck, a friend and employee of the McCaslins who run a plantation in
rural Mississippi. Boon was adopted by the family at a young age and is a sort
of mentor to 11-year old Lucius (Mitch Vogel). When “Boss” McCaslin (Will Geer)
purchases the first automobile in the county, it’s not just any car, but a
brand new yellow Winton Flyer.
Lucius’ grandfather, runs the family and farm with a firm, but thoughtful hand.
A death in the family requires Boss and Lucius’ parents to depart for four days
to attend the funeral. Lucius is left in the care of Boon with strict orders for
the car to remain locked up. Boon takes Lucius home in the Flyer after dropping
the family at the train station. He gives Lucius a driving lesson and informs him
of his intentions to take the Flyer on a trip to Memphis so he can meet up with
his girlfriend Corrie (Sharon Farrell) and invites Lucius to join him. They
devise a tangled web of white lies and misinformation to deceive various
relatives and soon head off for Memphis. Shortly after departing, Ned McCalin
(Rupert Crosse) is discovered hiding in the back seat under a blanket (how he
went undiscovered back there is hard to explain, but it’s not important). Ned
is a bi-racial cousin to the McCaslins and, like Boon, works for the family. Along
the way the three reivers get stuck in a mud trap set by a local farmer named
Edmonds (played to the hilt with dripping chewing tobacco by character actor Charles
Tyner) who sits in wait after flooding a depression in the road making it
impossible for horse carts or automobiles to get through without his mule
towing services. The three clean their muddy mess after stopping at a local
Memphis is a big deal and Lucius is given the honor of driving the Flyer into
town as they arrive at a boarding house run by Mr. Binford (Michael
Constantine) and Miss Reba (Ruth White). Ned departs to stay in the black side
of town (this is 1905 Mississippi) and Lucius is introduced to Miss Corrie who
he perceives as an angelic vision of motherly virtue. The wonders of adult life
are presented to Lucius in quick order when he is offered beer at dinner and gets
into a fight with Corrie’s nephew Otis (Lindy Davis) who informs Lucius that
Corrie is in fact a whore and they are staying in a brothel. Defending her
honor, Lucius starts punching and Otis cuts Lucius in the hand with a knife before
Boon arrives. Touched by Lucius’ gesture, Corrie vows to give up her life as a
prostitute and be the virtuous woman Lucius sees in her.
Tony Curtis, like most aspiring screen stars, slogged through bit parts in unmemorable films when he first broke into the industry in the late 1940s. By the mid-1950s, however, he was a major star, even if the films he top-lined were relatively undistinguished. With his boyish good looks and New York wise guy persona, Curtis excelled at playing charismatic rogues and, perhaps improbably for a guy born in the Bronx, cowboys, knights and other exotic men of action. But Curtis was more than just a pretty face and by the late 1950s he was getting challenging roles that allowed him to show off his dramatic acting skills. He was brilliant in "Sweet Smell of Success" and "The Defiant Ones" and gave one of the great comedic performances of all time in Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot". By the late 1960s, however, his star power was fading. He still had enough clout to get the male leads in lightweight comedies like "Sex and the Single Girl" and "Don't Make Waves", but the bloom was off the rose. Ironically, he won fine reviews for his convincing performance in the 1968 film "The Boston Strangler", but most of the good roles would continue to elude him. Like many fading American stars, he turned toward European productions, starring in "Those Daring Young Men in the Jaunty Jalopies" and "You Can't Win 'Em All", the latter with fellow U.S. import Charles Bronson who found major stardom in Europe long before he became a big name in America. One of the least prestigious films that Curtis appeared was titled "On the Way to the Crusades, I Met a Girl Who...", a 1967 sex comedy filmed in Italy and which would not be released in the USA until 1969, when it had limited distribution. Perhaps because theater owners in the UK and USA had pity on the poor souls who had to stand on ladders and put film titles on theater marquees letter-by-letter, the English language version of the film was shortened to the more provocative "The Chastity Belt". Curtis wasn't the only English-speaking actor in the otherwise all-Italian production, as Hugh Griffith and John Richardson were co-starred.
The film opens with Curtis playing against type as Guerrando de Montone, a sniveling, cowardly and bumbling opportunist who finally is granted his wish to be made a knight. As his reward, he is entitled to claim a vast tract of land as his own. Guerrando is quick to abuse his power over the peasants, especially when he discovers that the local game warden and his voluptuous daughter, Boccadoro (Monica Vitti) live on his land. Although Boccadoro is initially attracted to him, Guerrando's misogynistic ways quickly alienate her. Guerrando informs her that he is her lord and master and will use her for sexual pleasure whenever he pleases. Most of the fun in the script, which was co-written by the esteemed Larry Gelbart, centers on the buxom beauty's strategies to avoid going to bed with Guerrando, who becomes increasingly frustrated. To solve the problem, he forces her to marry him but she delays the consummation of the marriage by invoking a rare, ancient ritual that commits them both to spending three days in constant prayer. When that obstacle is removed, Guerrando is ready to make his move only to find that he has been summoned to join the Crusades and leave Italy for a period of years. To ensure that Boccadoro remains chaste, he has her fitted with a chastity belt which causes her to swear vengeance. The film meanders through the couple's misadventures with Boccadoro intent on finding her husband and murdering him. She poses as a knight in armor and infiltrates his camp but both are kidnapped by an evil, horny sultan (Hugh Griffith) who forces Guerrando to convert to Islam while he makes plans to open the chastity belt and have his way with Boccadoro.The whole thing ends in a madcap chase with heroes and villains chasing each other about a castle.
Italian cinema-goers were very enamored of sex farces during this period. "The Chasity Belt" is one of the tamest, as there is no nudity and the most provocative aspects are plentiful shots of Ms. Vitti's ample bosom bouncing around during the many chase scenes. Like most films of the genre, there are plenty of moments of slapstick and narrow escapes. What impresses most about this modest production is director Pasquale Festa Campanile's light touch and the ability to move the action at such a rapid pace that you don't ponder how predictable it all is. While it's still a bit of a shock to see someone of Curtis's stature in this "B" level comedy, he is in good form and provides plenty of laughs by not even attempting to disguise his New Yawk accent. He is matched by the very likable Vitti and Hugh Griffith, who recycles his lovable rascal shtick from "Ben-Hur". What is stands out most are the rather spectacular locations. Most of the action is shot outdoors in ancient ruins and castles that add a good deal of atmosphere to the goings on.
"The Chasity Belt" is the kind of film that Curtis probably did very reluctantly. He would later try his hand in television co-starring with Roger Moore in the sensational action series "The Persuaders", but it lasted only 24 episodes. A later series, "McCoy" lasted only a single season. Curtis would still turn up in a few major films like "The Mirror Crack'd" and "The Last Tycoon" but only in supporting roles. Nevertheless, he remained enjoyable to watch and always gave his best effort. Perhaps for that reason, "The Chastity Belt" is a lot more worthwhile than you might imagine.
The Warner Archive DVD is generally very good with a few blotches and grainy frames, but one suspects there aren't too many archival prints of this long-forgotten film floating around out there. There are no bonus extras.
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Kino Lorber has released the 1945 film "Hangover Square", directed by John Brahm, as a Blu-ray special edition. George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) is a sensitive,
talented composer who has been working very hard, perhaps too hard, on a new
concerto for piano. A well-known conductor (Alan Napier) thinks it’s a worthy
piece of music and is going to debut it at Symphony Hall once it’s finished.
The conductor’s daughter Barbara (Faye Marlowe) not only adores George’s music,
she adores him as well. Sounds like an ideal situation, but in this 1945 20th
Century Fox film noir, you know things are not going to work out very well. You
see, George has a problem. He has blackouts that are caused whenever there are
loud dissonant noises around him. And when he blacks out he kills people.
The film actually starts with a murder scene. We see
George stabbing an antiques shopkeeper to death and setting the place on fire
(fire is a major motif in the film). He escapes before the police can catch him
and walks through the foggy London Streets to his home on Hangover Square,
where he finds Barbara and her father trying out his unfinished concerto. He’s
forgotten what he just did but when he sees a newspaper headline (they printed
them fast in those days), he has a bad feeling that he might have done
something naughty. He tells Barbara about his misgivings and decides to go see
Dr. Allan Middleton (George Sanders) a forensic psychologist who works for the
police. Middleton does some tests on George’s clothes and the knife he found in
his possession and tells him there’s no evidence of any connection with the
murder. But he’s still concerned about George having these weird blackouts. He
tells him he needs to get some rest, relax, and get away from that damned
concerto for a while. Turns out to be the worst doctor’s advice ever.
George goes out to unwind at a local music hall and gets
an eye full of Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell), a singer/dancer and a
card-carrying member of the International League of Femmes Fatales. In fact,
she’s probably president of the local chapter. George is flattered when she
pays a little attention to him after finding out he’s a composer. She’s trying
to make a name for herself on the stage and needs some new songs. She coaxes
George to write some tunes for her. Being a totally naïve sucker who never had
much experience with women, other than the decent Barbara, he’s totally out of
his league with Netta, who has several other guys on leashes, including her
piano player and a handsome playboy type she meets one night while in George’s
One night, amidst this abuse, he’s walking home in that
perpetual 20th Century Fox fog and a horse- drawn wagon carrying
steel pipes hits a ditch and the loud cacophony of the pipes hitting the ground
sends George off into another one of his spells and you know what happens. What
I like about “Hangover Square” is that there is no explanation for why George
has blackouts whenever he hears discordant sounds. It’s just how it is.
Something in his brain is screwed up and, I suppose, being a musician, he’s
sensitive to sound. If they did a remake today, you’d have tons of psychobabble,
and flashback scenes of how his parents abused him when he was a baby, blowing
loud duck calls in his face in the bathtub or something similar. There’s none
of that. There’s the gimmick of the loud noises and flashbacks and that’s it.
Anyway, George starts neglecting the concerto and Barbara
and finds himself consumed by Netta and her insatiable demands for music. That
might have been okay, except every time he tries to get close to her, spend
some time alone with her, she’s always busy, or has a headache (or has a date
with another guy). Frustration builds up and explodes when George goes to her
apartment and asks her to marry him so he can devote all his time to her and
discovers she’s actually going to marry that slick playboy rat. Bad mistake. I won’t
tell you what happens next and it’s not what you think. Not right away. There’s
actually still a lot of the movie left. A lot of it is taken up with George debuting
his concerto. The soundtrack score, including the concerto for “Hangover Square”
was written by the inestimable Bernard Herrmann. There’s music throughout the
film, with scenes of Laird Cregar at the keyboard actually playing some of it.
The big scene at the end features 10 minutes of the concerto, a significant
piece of film music in its own right.
In viewing the first half hour of the 1970 British May/December romance Say Hello to Yesterday, I was sorely tempted to hit the "eject" button the DVD player and pass this title along to one of our other reviewers who might not have such an immediate disdain for the film. Why did I have such a visceral reaction? Because I could not recall a romantic film that featured such an irritating, annoying leading man, in this case played by Leonard Whiting. From the very opening sequence which introduces him as the somewhat estranged son from London who drops in, unannounced and uninvited, on his birthday to visit his working class mother and father. The reception he receives is a rather cool one. He accompanies his dad as the older man makes his daily trek to some rather Orwellian-looking dead end job in an industrial plant. At first, your tempted to to sympathize with this unnamed lad, given his father's constant criticisms about the way he is leading his life. The elder man accuses his son of being a shiftless grifter who can only enjoy the bright lights of the big city by mooching off of friends and acquaintances. The younger man dismisses the criticisms and remains so perpetually cheerful and jolly that you soon begin to resent him, too. The scenes depicting the young man's strained home life give way to his taking a commuter train back to London. On board is a forty-something, attractive woman (Jean Simmons), whose character also remains unnamed during the course of the story. (For the sake of convenience, I will very creatively refer to them as "the man" and "the woman"). A brief introduction to her home life makes it clear that she is a typical suburban housewife with a successful husband and a couple of kids. Outwardly, you can see she lives a comfortable life and doesn't want for materialistic things. However, her body language conveys the fact that she is not satisfied with her lot in life, as she coldly bids her husband goodbye. She's off to spend an entire day in London, ostensibly to go shopping and to have tea with her mother. Yet, the viewer can immediately sense that her real purpose is to temporarily escape her rather mundane daily routine.
On board the train, the man, who is in his about twenty years old, is chatting up an attractive girl his own age when he spots the woman sitting in a crowded passenger compartment, surrounded by stuffy businessmen. He is intrigued by the fact that she obviously wants to smoke but has been consigned to a non-smoking compartment. He is amused by the fact that she is trying to unobtrusively peel the "No Smoking" decal from the compartment window. He is also immediately infatuated by her, despite their age difference. (Who can blame him? She's Jean Simmons!) Soon, they meet cute but she isn't interested for good reason. The man comes across as an obnoxious case of arrested development, badgering everyone in the compartment with juvenile and cynical quips. She finds him slightly amusing, but when she discovers he is following in her footsteps around London shops, she becomes exasperated- especially when his flirting ritual includes causing an embarrassing commotion in a department store. Soon, she is running through the streets of London with the man in pursuit and a posse of good samaritans chasing him down, thinking he intends to harm the woman. In the end, he finally catches up with her and uses his charm to begin to win her over. By this point in the story, credibility goes out the window. The woman is obviously cultured and intelligent and it defies reason that she would put up such a grating would-be paramour simply because he's young and hunky. The man is the human equivalent of nails scraping on a blackboard. Yet, I persevered, if only because the performances by Seberg and Whiting were so engaging. A strange thing happened along the way: I became increasingly engrossed in the story and fate of the characters. Whiting is on hyper-ventilation mode most of the time but in the few sequences in which he talks calmly to the woman, he tells poignant and moving stories about his tragic past. Yet, she suspects- and so do we- that these may be tall tales, because it seems this modern Walter Mitty is also a compulsive liar. Nevertheless, his infatuation with the woman flatters her, even though she repeatedly attempts to escape his company. Yet, even buses and taxis won't deter him. (He catches up with the taxi and jumps on the running board in an act that is supposed to be charming but would strike most women as the action of a potential serial killer.)
The film was clearly inspired by David Lean's 1946 masterpiece Brief Encounter, in which two everyday people begin to fall in love after a chance meeting at a train station. The resemblance ends there, however, as the man in this story is a far cry from the sober, sane and classy character played by Trevor Howard in the Lean production. The plot consists of the woman alternately accepting the man's company, then trying to repel him. She is outraged when he secretly follows her to her mother's apartment and barges in to introduce herself. In an amusing plot twist, the mother (wonderfully played in a wry turn by Evelyn Laye) thinks the young man is her daughter's lover. She not only accepts this but encourages her daughter to carry on with secret liaisons with him, confessing to her astonished daughter that she, too, had enjoyed an affair decades ago. ("It was a long war", she says ruefully). Ultimately, the man and woman do decide to consummate their one-day affair, though by this time the woman is still of decidedly mixed emotions. She feels a sense of guilt. As with the straying married woman in The Bridges of Madison County, she recognizes that her husband is a good man and that the "crime" of being dull shouldn't justify a sexual affair with a man she has just met. In the film's best sequence, they gain access to rental flat and go through the always-awkward process human beings have to engage in when they bed a lover for the first time. This prolonged sequence is the heart of the movie and leads to emotional rollercoasters for both the man and the woman, as he tries to persuade her to leave her humdrum existence for the fun, yet insecure, life he would provide. By this time, I found myself completely engaged in the story line and caring about how matters would be resolved.
Director Alvin Rakoff is to be credited for the sensitive handling of this material. He also deserves high praise for shooting mostly on location, which provides some stunning views of London in 1970. Simmons and Whiting are both terrific and the latter can't be blamed for the fact that his character never really matures beyond the state of a "man-child". The film features a lush musical score by Riz Orolani and some chirpy pop love songs that make The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" seem cutting-edge. Nevertheless, the film does boast some superb cinematography by the late, great Geoffrey Unsworth and it's a rich looking production throughout.
Scorpion Entertainment has released a first-rate special edition DVD of this modest film that most retro movie lovers probably never even heard of. Film historian Tony Sloman does yeoman work on the commentary track with Rakoff, who is refreshingly candid about his criticisms of various aspects of the movie, including the title, which he disdains to this day. Rakoff tells some marvelous anecdotes that sometimes divert from the film at hand, but are nonetheless interesting. They involve frustrations that emerged when working with Bette Davis, who felt she didn't need any direction. He also recounts getting fired from films because of creative differences with the powers-that-be. He is nonetheless proud of Say Hello to Yesterday, though he admits to cringing at some of the man's over-the-top comedic antics. He rightly lavishes praise on Jean Simmons, pointing out that although "cougars" might be all the rage today, it was considered daring to present a love story in 1970 in which a young man is involved with an older woman. Rakoff says that Simmons was self-conscious because she felt she had "bad legs", thus she shows only a glimpse of them above her boots. He also bemoans the fact that Whiting should have had a very successful career in films, but it inexplicably petered out shortly after this movie was released. Rakoff also tells interesting stories about filming in London and points out a brief walk-by cameo done by Rod Steiger, much to Tony Sloman's amazement. Both men are rather astounded at how sparse the traffic and crowds were in the London of this era- a far cry from the teeming masses that populate the city today. The special edition also includes the original trailer.
Say Hello to Yesterday is in many ways a flawed film but it is nonetheless a highly engaging one. Recommended, especially if you are as enamored of retro British cinema as I am.
Orchids for Miss Blandish premiered in London in 1948, it created controversy
that extended all the way to British Parliament. The Monthly Film Bulletin called the movie “the most sickening
exhibition of brutality, perversion and sex ever shown on a cinema screen.” The Saturday Pictorial called it “a
piece of nauseating muck.” The Observer’s
reviewer wrote: “This film has all the morals of an alley cat and the sweetness
of a sewer.” Some politicians were also offended. The Parliamentary Secretary
to the Ministry of Food said that the film “was likely to pervert the minds of
the British people.” Eventually, the British Board of Film Censors was
compelled to offer an apology for approving the film’s production.
Attempts to release the movie in the United
States by distributor Richard Gordon were met with threats by the New York
Censor Board as well as the Customs Department to confiscate it. Gordon had to
bring the movie into the country through New Orleans but it would still take three
years of bargaining and the removal of 12 minutes of objectionable scenes to
obtain approval for exhibition. Nevertheless, the edited version was still greeted
with harsh reviews. Time called it,
“ludicrous claptrap from a claptrap novel.” The
New York Times chastised it as “an awkward attempt on the part of the English
to imitate Hollywood’s gangster formula.”
The critical disdain has never stopped. In
the multi-volume reference work, The
Motion PictureGuide,Jay Robert Nash and Stanley Ralph Ross
write “This a sick exercise in sadism (and) is about as wretched as they come.”
The annual Halliwell’sFilm Guide summarizes the movie as “hilariously
awful (and) one of the worst films ever made.”
The movie is based upon the 1939 novel of the
same name by British author James Hadley Chase that was called everything from pulp
trash to borderline pornography. When it was published in America three years
later, it received equally terrible reviews with many critics accusing the
author of plagiarizing William Faulkner’s 1931 novel, Sanctuary. The novel concerns the daughter of a wealthy Kansas City
businessman who is kidnapped by the notorious Grisson gang, led my Ma Grisson
and her psychopathic son, Slim; she is subsequently subjected to repeated rapes
by Slim while in a drug-induced stupor. (Note: when Robert Aldrich directed his
film version in 1971, he changed the name from Grisson to Grissom for The Grissom Gang.)
After several attempts to film the novel were
aborted by the BFFC, producer George Minter signed playwright St. John Clowes
to write a script that eventually was approved. The script eliminated much of the
novel’s sleaze but, as it turned out, not enough. Clowes, who had directed one
previous film, also signed on to direct. Casting proved to be difficult because
of the novel’s notoriety. After several Hollywood actresses refused the role,
Minter signed British actress Linden Travers who had played Miss Blandish in
the London stage version which had been a huge success in 1942. (As in the
novel, Miss Blandish’s first name is never revealed.) For the role of Slim
Grisson, Minter hired Hollywood actor Jack La Rue whose most famous role had ironically
been as the gangster/rapist called Trigger in The Story of Temple Drake, the 1933 film version of Sanctuary. Due to that film’s infamy, La
Rue’s career had subsequently stalled and he had been reduced to playing bit
parts until he accepted the role of Slim Grisson.
Clowes changes the setting of the story from
1930s Kansas City to 1940s New York City and converts the sordid tale into a
love story. Slim Grisson is still a killer but is also a sensitive gangster who
has always had a torch for the heiress. Instead of being held prisoner and
sexually abused, Miss Blandish chooses to voluntarily stay with her captor and
become his lover. The other members of the Grisson gang remain murderous thugs who
become furious over Slim’s refusal to demand ransom from his paramour’s father;
this will lead to carnage within the gang. Mr. Blandish also undergoes some
changes from a cold patriarch to a caring father who longs for his daughter’s
return. Dave Fenner, the private detective of the novel, becomes a
wise-cracking reporter who discovers the culpability of the Grisson gang and
becomes their target. Meanwhile, the police are determined to end the gang’s
reign of terror. With all of these forces against their alliance, the lovers’
plan to escape to another country is doomed.
Regarding the controversy, the film contains numerous
scenes of depraved criminals committing acts of brutality along with periodic
scenes of suggestive sexual interludes among various characters. What particularly
shocked British gentry was the suggestion that an aristocratic woman would not
only voluntarily elect to have a sexual relationship with someone beneath her
social class but would actually enjoy it. This was simply unacceptable. Also, the
film’s depiction of a gang of killers with no redeeming qualities angered
social reformers who believed that lawbreakers were products of their
environment and could be rehabilitated if taken away from such milieu. Furthermore,
many British film critics disapproved of the popularity of Hollywood gangster
films and resented the idea of a home-based film emulating this despised genre.
Thus, the condemnation of the film was at least in part due to factors other
than the quality of the movie.
Mill Creek Entertainment has released a DVD of two Dean Martin romantic comedies from the 1960s, "Who Was That Lady?" and "How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life.
Of the two features, "Who's That Lady?" is the far superior entry. Based on Norman Krasna's play "Who Was That Lady I Saw You With?", the modestly-budgeted B&W production offered an undemanding role for Martin, who was coming off acclaimed dramatic performances in "The Young Lions" and "Some Came Running" following his breakup with Jerry Lewis. Tony Curtis gets top billing in the film playing David Wilson, a chemistry professor at Columbia University in New York City. Before the credits finish unspooling, we see him caught in a compromising situation when his wife Ann (Janet Leigh) catches him in the act smooching with one of his students. She storms out and makes preparations to file for divorce. David pleads with her to reconsider but she won't hear of it. In desperation, David turns to his best friend Mike Haney (Dean Martin), a charismatic bachelor and serial womanizer. He also happens to be a screenwriter for CBS television and possesses a fertile imagination. Mike hatches an audacious scheme to get David off the hook. He gets a pistol from the CBS prop department as well as a custom-made faux F.B.I. identification card made with David's photo on it. The two men then tell Ann that both of them have been secretly moonlighting as F.B.I. agents for years and that the girl David was kissing was a suspected spy who he had been ordered to flirt with in order to win her confidence. Ann is initially skeptical but the appearance of the gun and I.D. card changes her mind. Suddenly, she is greatly impressed with her husband, who she now regards as a macho man. However, the lie turns into a giant headache when a real F.B.I. agent (James Whitmore) gets a tip that David has a phony ID from the agency. Adding to David's woes is Mike's insistence that they play upon Ann's gullibility by going out on more "missions" that involve seductive women. The house of cards eventually comes crashing down in a frenzied climax set in the bowels of the Empire State Building where David and Mike are mistaken by Soviet spies as real agents and kidnapped.
"Who Was That Lady?" is a pleasant time-killer that relies primarily on the deft comedic performances of the three leads, each of whom delivers the goods. There's great chemistry between Curtis, Martin and Leigh (the real-life Mrs. Curtis at the time) and the film boasts an impressive supporting cast aside from the always-impressive Whitmore. John McIntire is there along with Simon Oakland and Larry Storch as the commies. Barbara Nichols and Joi Lansing add some laughs as a couple of busty, bubble-headed Marilyn Monroe-type who Mike earmarks as dates for him and David- a plan that ends disastrously. The film, directed by George Sidney, is best in the first half when the action and characters are set in the real world. However, the film delves into slapstick elements that prove to be more distracting than amusing. Still, "Who's That Lady?" is a generally funny effort, even if it's an undistinguished one- and you get to hear Dino croon the catchy title song.
Sam Fuller is one of these iconic directors that
independent film makers like Quentin Tarantino andRobert Rodrigues idolize for being a maverick
who frequently got away with making movies his own way, even if the studios
that employed him didn’t always like it. But even though he preferred to make
hard hitting, semi-expose movies like “Shock Corridor” and “The Naked Kiss,”
Fuller also knew which side of the bread was buttered and could make a movie
that both he and his studio bosses knew could be a commercial success. “Hell
and High Water” (1954), released by 20th Century Fox, is one of those. Made at
the height of the Cold War, it capitalized on America’s fear of the atom bomb,
the Red Menace, and catered to the belief that private individuals can sometime
be more effective than government at solving the world’s problems.
A group of such individuals, scientists from around the
world, want to investigate suspicious activities on an island in the North
Atlantic by the Chinese communists (though their nationality is never
mentioned).They hire former submarine
commander Capt. Adam Jones (Richard Widmark) to take them to the island in a
rebuilt Japanese sub (the kind that Captain Jones calls “a sewer pipe”). The
scientists suspect that the island is being used as the site for the building
of an atom bomb and are scheming to start WW III. Fuller had a hand in writing
the screenplay as well as directing and so Capt. Jones is your typical Fuller
hero. He’s tough, he’s brash, he’s honest, and he’s cynical. He agrees to take
the idealistic scientists to their destination but only because they’ll pay him
50 G’s to do it.
He assembles some of his old crew, including Gene Evans
(a Fuller regular), and Cameron Mitchell, the sub’s sonar man. The lead
scientist in charge of the expedition is Professor Montel (Victor Franken), who
is fond of saying: “Every man has his own reason for living, and his own price
for dying.” Just for the sake of spicing things up a bit, the old professor
brings along an assistant-- a sexy young French female scientist played by
Bella Darvi. Darvi’s personal story is both interesting and tragic. She was
discovered in Monaco by Darryl Zanuck and his wife Virginia. Mrs. Zanuck
thought she had star potential and even created Bella’s screen name. Darvi is a
combination of Darryl and Virginia. She made only three Hollywood movies before
a sex scandal involving Zanuck broke out, causing Virginia Zanuck to split.
Darvi’s career never really took off and after the scandal she returned to
Europe where she eventually committed suicide at age 42.
But to return to our story, of course, the presence of a
woman on board a salvaged Japanese sub manned by a bunch of horny, sweaty guys
is a totally believable thing and isn’t going to cause any sort of plot
complication. But then believability isn’t a word you’d associate with “Hell
and High Water.” Especially not when the sub encounters another submarine, (Chinese?
I guess, who knows for sure) demanding to know what the hell they’re doing
there. What follows is the usual cat and mouse sequence you find in most
submarine movies. After a torpedo is fired at them, they dive for the bottom.
The torpedoes on Jones’s sub don’t work because they didn’t have time to get
them in working order before they started out. They stay there trying to not
make any noise so they don’t get pinged by sonar. The other sub lands a few
hundred yards away and they try to outwait each other. Finally, Jones and his
men have had enough and the captain orders the ship to make a break for it.
He’s got a new plan. He rams the “sewer pipe” into the other sub and sinks it.
Hooray, the good guys win. But wait. This is supposed to be a peaceful
scientific expedition. What about all the Chinese sailors (or whatever they are)
killed on the other sub? Wouldn’t that be like an international incident?
Wouldn’t that actually be an act of war itself that might lead to WWIII, just
the very think they were trying to prevent?
“Junior Bonner,” (1972) may not be director Sam
Peckinpah’s greatest film, but in many ways it’s one of his most honest. There
are no outlaws with guns blazing in a suicidal battle with the Mexican army (“The
Wild Bunch”) . No down and out tough guys scrounging their lives away in
Mexican dives on a quest to get the head of a dead man worth $1 million (“Bring
Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”). No CIA contractors skulking around San
Francisco’s Suisan Bay with telescopic rifles (“The Killer Elite”). None of that.
Instead “Junior Bonner” is the story of a modern day, every day rodeo cowboy
fighting an honorable and impossible battle against the forces that are
changing the people and the land that he knew—changing them for the worse.
Steve McQueen, in one of his most realistic, understated
performances, plays the Arizona cowboy who’s been riding the rodeo circuit a
little too long, and he knows it. He’s the son of former rodeo star Ace Bonner,
and he returns to his Prescott, Ariz., home in time for the town’s annual
Fourth of July rodeo festival. At the last stop on the circuit he got “throwed”
by a bull named Sunshine and his goal is to have a rematch with Sunshine in
front of his home town crowd. In a way he’s fulfilling one of the precepts of
the Peckinpah canon laid down in “Ride the High Country,” in which Joel McCrea,
as an aging former lawman, says “All I want to do is enter my house justified.”
Peckinpah rather brilliantly presents the theme of
changing times in the early scenes of the film, when JR drives his big old
white Cadillac convertible and horse-carrying trailer to his father’s home and
finds it is now a tumble-down shack about to be demolished by a wrecking crew.
The land it is on is being bulldozed into a gravel pit. After going inside the
house and finding nothing but an old picture in a busted frame of Ace in his
heyday, he drives out to the pit and asks if they know where Ace is. “Never
heard of him,” they tell him. And, in a scene reminiscent of “The Grapes of Wrath,”
when he tries to drive out of the pit he gets into a head-to-head confrontation
with a bulldozer operator who won’t let him pass. For a minute it looks like JR
might take him, but instead he’s forced to back up.
We next meet JR’s young brother, Curly (Joe Don Baker), a
real estate developer who’s selling off his father’s land to build a trailer
park. When JR finds out he only paid $15,000 for four sections of land, he’s
not too happy about it. And when Curly offers to bring him into the business because
he doesn’t want his older brother to “end up like the old man,” JR does what
any good Peckinpah cowboy would do. He knocks him through a picture window.
The film features two veterans playing JR’s parents,
Robert Preston as Ace and Ida Lupino as Elvira Bonner. Ace in his old age, is something
of a clown, a dreamer and the town drunk. His current ambition is to go to
Australia to punch cows. Elvira is the disillusioned wife and mother who knows
the best days of their lives are over and is just trying to hold on to what’s
left. Preston had just the right amount of charm and personality to make Ace a
convincing character and Lupino, who had been working steadily in TV after
years as a successful actress and director, is both touching and beautiful in
her return to the big screen. Also on hand are Ben Johnson as Buck Roan, the
man who runs the rodeo, as well as familiar faces such as Bill McKinney (“Deliverance”)
and Don “Red” Barry (in westerns too numerous to mention).
Peckinpah filmed the movie on location during the actual
Prescott Rodeo event, utilizing the local color and many non-actors, giving the
picture an authenticity that can’t be duplicated on studio sets. It’s that
direct simplicity that makes “Junior Bonner” work. In the end, it’s the story
of people coming to terms with the truth of who they are and facing the consequences
in 1977, Scalpel is one of only two films bearing the director credit John
Grissmer. A decade apart, the other is 1987’s marginally less satisfying Blood
Rage. Which isn’t to suggest that Scalpel itself is particularly good, because
it’s not. It is, however, the better of the pair.
surgeon Dr Phillip Reynolds (Robert Lansing) is in a bit of a quandary. His
wife is some while dead and his father-in-law, who despised him, has just
passed away bequeathing a fortune to Reynolds’ daughter Heather (Judith
Chapman). The problem is that Heather disappeared after witnessing Reynolds
committing a dreadful crime and she hasn’t been seen for over a year. And
Reynolds wants that money! A solution presents itself when he’s out driving one
night and almost runs over Jane, a stripper who’s been savagely beaten up and
is laid unconscious in the road. Whisking Jane off to the hospital where he
works, Reynolds hatches a scheme to refashion her smashed face to replicate that
of the missing Heather. As she recovers he makes her a proposal: successfully
pass herself off as Heather until the cash is signed over and they will split
it down the middle. It sounds perfect. But with $5 million at stake there’s
trouble ahead and Reynolds’ cunning plan is about to be derailed by an
circulating under the title False Face – which arguably has less exploitation
value plastered across a marquee than Scalpel, but is technically more
pertinent – John Grissmer’s debut film is a bit of an oddity. Although on first
run it feels mired in a pervasive grubbiness, when you step back and analyse it
that’s more down to the sickly yellow glaze that bedecks the entire movie (the
artistic intent of cinematographer Edward Lachman) than anything particularly
disturbing content-wise. In fact, a fleeting flash of nudity and a splash or
two of graphic bloodshed aside, Scalpel could almost pass as a TV production. This
impression is enforced by the headlining presence of prolific actor Robert
Lansing, whose work on television (in a fistful of made-for-TV movies, but
mostly in episodes of a myriad of series) outweighed his big screen appearances
14 to 1. Nevertheless, he’s on excellent form here as the nutty surgeon with as
much of a fixation on his daughter – the manifestation of incestuous desire may
be fairly tame but it’s scarcely subtle – as he has on lining his pockets with
ill-gotten millions. Judith Chapman meanwhile is every bit his equal in the
contrasting roles of Jane and Heather and there’s some very efficient split
screen work served up on those occasions that she’s called upon to share the
screen with herself.
Grissmer also penned the script, based on an original story by Joseph
Weintraub, and if it’s not exactly thrill-a-minute stuff it certainly manages
to keep one engaged enough through a number of (mostly predictable) twists,
although for my money it badly fumbles the ball in the penultimate act with a
daft sequence in which one of the main characters descends into gibbering
you don’t go in expecting to be wowed, you shouldn’t come away too
disappointed. But the bottom line is that it’s always pleasing to see a movie
brought back from the brink of obscurity – for every naysayer there’s always
going to be someone else rejoicing – and for that reason alone Scalpel is well
worth a look.
this instance it’s the ever reliable Arrow Video breathing new life into the
borderline obscure and the package they’ve put together for Scalpel is very decent
indeed. There are two versions of film to choose from, one faithfully retaining
the original, rather off-putting yellowish-green hues of the
aforementioned cinematography, the other being Arrow’s own newly tweaked version
with the colour grading adjusted to attain a more naturalistic look; although
staunch traditionalists will favour the former, the latter makes the film more
palatable by far. Whichever you select, there’s the option to watch in the
company of a commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith. 45-minutes’
worth of all-new interviews with director John Grissmer, DOP Edward Lachman and
star Judith Chapman, a slideshow gallery of stills and artwork, plus a vintage
trailer combine to constitute the bonus goodies. A reversible sleeve and
collector’s booklet may be par for the course now with Arrow releases, but
they’re never less than welcome.
Mill Creek Entertainment has released a Jerry Lewis triple feature consisting of "3 on a Couch" (1966), "Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River" (1968) and "Hook, Line and Sinker" (1969). The films represent a mixed bag as Lewis entered middle age and tried to blend a more mature screen presence with his traditional persona of a lovable goofball.
"3 on a Couch" is leaden farce directed by Lewis, that presents him as Christopher Pride, an aspiring artist who wins a contest sponsored by the French government that will afford him to spend a month in Paris to contribute to a high profile project that could greatly enhance his career. Christopher is understandably over the moon about the prospect and shares the good news with his fiancee, Elizabeth (Janet Leigh), who he wants to join him on the trip. However, Elizabeth has a problem: she is a psychiatrist who is overseeing three emotionally vulnerable young women who are trying to cope with romantic relationships that have ended in heartbreak for them. They are completely dependent on her to cure them of their fear and loathing of men and Elizabeth can't justify taking off for a month because they have become so dependent upon her as both a mother figure and a confidant. Frustrated, Christopher devises an outlandish strategy in conjunction with his best friend Ben (James Best). He decides to adopt disguises as three different men, each of whom will attempt to woo one of the vulnerable young women and therefore restore their faith in the male of the species, thus allowing them to sever the ties to Elizabeth's therapy sessions. If you think it sounds absurd, wait until you see it all play out on screen. Christopher's alter egos consist of a fitness fanatic who will appeal to one of the patients who jogs and works out non-stop. Another is Ringo, a Texan who wears a ten-gallon hat and who perpetually chews on an unlit cigar while acting like a case of arrested development. The third persona is a fey, Truman Capote-type who lives with his protective sister (which also affords Lewis to play that role in drag.) The preposterous scenario doesn't hold up for a second, especially when each of the young women falls head over heels for these zany types, including the guy who appears to be gay. Go figure. The farce allows Lewis to indulge in his obsession with playing roles in various over-the-top disguises, none of which are the slightest bit amusing. The sight of Lewis in drag trying to shimmy out of stockings and corset is more disturbing than funny. The climax finds Christopher and Elizabeth being feted at a bon voyage party in her office as they prepare to sail for Paris. Predictably, all three young women decide to show up to see Elizabeth off, which ensures that Lewis has to frantically keep switching disguises to interact with each "girlfriend" so they don't catch on the ruse. The scene is ridiculous on several levels, the most obvious being that hundreds of people seem to be able to miraculously fit into this tiny office space. Lewis seems to have been inspired by the famed stateroom scene from "A Night at the Opera" but despite the frantic goings-on, the whole shebang falls flat as a pancake. Lewis plays it straight when in the role of the artist but chews the scenery mercilessly as the alter-egos. Likewise, James Best, who Lewis directs as though he is also on steroids. The three young women- Gila Golan, Leslie Parrish and Mary Ann Mobley- are reduced to air-headed females who define their entire lives by finding the right man. Only Janet Leigh retains her dignity and seems to be acting in a completely different film. The whole enterprise is excruciating throughout.
"Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River" seems to afford more promise. For one, it's based on a source novel by Max Wilk, who also wrote the screenplay. The film was also shot in England, which gives a Lewis production a refreshing change of pace. The movie's highlight is its opening credits sequence in which a nattily-clad Lewis jauntily walks through the streets of London, thus affording some good views of the city while a sappy title song unspools. Lewis plays George Lester, a self-made rich guy, who encounters a pretty young woman during his walk. She's Pamela (Jacqueline Pearce), who is quickly wooed by George and ends up marrying him. We then see a montage of what married life is like for her as George squanders his money taking them to exotic locations around the world in hare-brained schemes designed to develop new products that ultimately end in failure. Pamela decides to file for divorce, claiming that George's obsession with his business has left her feeling lonely and neglected. She's also being wooed by her divorce attorney, Dudley (Nicholas Parsons), a swanky, Savile Row-type who wants to succeed George as her next husband. Distraught, George decides to please his wife and win her back by converting their beloved country manor house to a combination Chinese restaurant and swinging discotheque. She is appalled, even though the place becomes a sensation and allows George to earn some much-needed money. The rest of the film centers on George's frantic and incredible strategies to win back Pamela and thwart his rival Dudley at the same time. Suffice it to say that Lewis once again gets to dress in outrageous disguises but, as in "3 on a Couch", none are amusing. The promising pairing of Lewis with Terry-Thomas as a con man he enlists in his scheme also falls flat as the plot meanders and plays out boringly under the leaden direction of Jerry Paris, who fared far better as a sitcom director. The only bright spots are a fine performance by Jacqueline Pearce and the occasional appearances of two of England's best comedic actors, Bernard Cribbins and Patricia Routledge. "Goldfinger" beauty Margaret Nolan appears as a dental assistant but is given nothing funny or memorable to do.
1980s were a decade of many cultural phenomenon such as the teen angst film,
the splatter horror film, the zombie films, and of course the teen sex comedy.
Bob Clark’s Porky’s (1981) was a huge
success both financially and artistically. To this day it’s still one of the funniest
movies ever made. Many of today’s best-known actors cut their teeth in such
fare: Tom Hanks attended an out-of-control Bachelor
Party (1984) and even Johnny Depp and Rob Morrow checked into a Private Resort (1985). Stanley Donen,
best known for directing Singin’ in the
Rain (1952), Funny Face (1957), Charade (1963), and Arabesque (1966), followed up the boring and disastrous Saturn 3 (1980) with Blame It on Rio, a peculiar entry in his
otherwise illustrious career. Jennifer (Michelle Johnson) is a pulchritudinous seventeen-year-old
who lusts after her father Victor’s (Joseph Bologna) best friend Matthew
(Michael Caine), a man roughly twenty-five years her senior (in reality there
is a thirty-two year difference between Caine and Johnson). The situation can
only be characterized as “creepy” and “inappropriate” since she has known him
her whole life and refers to him as “Uncle Matthew”.
the start we know that Matthew and his wife Karen (Valerie Harper) are
estranged when Karen drops a bombshell that she’s going on vacation by herself which
forces Matthew and their daughter Nikki (Demi Moore) to fly to Rio by
themselves with Victor and Jennifer. Almost from the outset Jennifer is pining
for Matthew, hitting the beach in nothing but a bikini bottom, her abundant
assets in full display to the dismay of her father. Despite Matthew’s vehement
protests, she insists that she loves him and only wants to be with him. Men her
own age simply don’t appeal to her. It becomes obvious by the film’s end that
Matthew is starting to fall for her (he’s still married to Karen), but one of
the biggest problems with the film is its characterization of Jennifer. Ms.
Johnson, who was hired by Mr. Donen following his discovery of her in W magazine, portrays Jennifer as she was
written: immature and unstable. By the film’s end, Jennifer commits a truly
awful act that is glossed over in the standard Hollywood fashion. It turns out
that she may be a little more dangerous than Matthew ever would have imagined.
Rio, which opened on Friday, February 17, 1984 just after
Valentine’s Day (yes, 34 years ago, Good Heavens), boasts a fairly provocative
advertising campaign featuring a woman’s rear view donning a bikini and it
became frequent viewing on cable television following its theatrical run. The
film is a loose remake of the 1977 French film Un Moment D'égarement (In a Wild Moment) by Claude Berrie, made years
before he made Jean de Flourette and Manon des Sources, which director Donen
and his then-wife Yvette Mimieux had seen and decided to option for a remake. Ironically,
it was made yet again in 2015 with Vincent Cassel and François Cluzet and
directed by Jean-François Richet and retained the original titre français.
Time/Life has been releasing a treasure trove of golden oldies relating to classic TV series. The latest comprises of four episodes of "The Jackie Gleason Show" that have been unseen since their original air dates in 1968-69. Gleason had become an icon by the early 1950s. His variety show for CBS was a national sensation and it was on there that he introduced "The Honeymooners" as an occasional sketch of varying lengths. He would later turn the scenario into a classic stand-alone sitcom that lasted for thirty nine glorious episodes. Gleason had numerous incarnations of his variety series. By the mid-1960s, he was still as king at CBS, which also laid claim to Ed Sullivan's equally popular variety show. Gleason used his clout to relocate his show to Miami Beach ("The sun and fun capital of the world!", he would assure his audience every week.) Gleason's love affair with the city helped increase tourism and paved the way for a burgeoning film and TV industry there. He always assured his audience that they were the greatest in the world, and it's hard to argue with that. Even his lamest sketches and jokes on the variety show bring down the house. A one man show business powerhouse, Gleason also succeeded on the big screen, in stage productions and also as a composer and conductor of romantic tunes that saw his albums improbably sell millions. Gleason revived "The Honeymooners" in the latest incarnation of his variety series, albeit with the roles of the female characters were recast. Gone were the beloved Audrey Meadows who played Alice, the wife of Gleason's Ralph Kramden. So too was Joyce Randolph replaced as Trixie, wife of Ralph's best friend, Ed Norton (Art Carney). In their place were Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean. Again, the "Honeymooners" sketches would vary in length but were a key ingredient in maintaining Gleason's high ratings.
The Time/Life release showcases "The Honeymooners" in three of the episodes. Gleason, like Howard Hawks, was unapologetic about recycling plots from his earlier works. Thus, one of the "Honeymooners" sketches is a loose remake of an episode from the 1950s in which Ralph mistakes a dog's dire health report from a veterinarian for his own diagnosis. The sketches are reasonably funny but the recasting of they key roles of the wives simply doesn't work very well, as we are so used to seeing Meadows and Randolph in these roles. Also, the cramped Kramden apartment looks cavernous on a Miami soundstage in color. The rest of the variety show episodes follow a pattern: Gleason is introduced and strolls on stage, dressed to the nines and looking like a million bucks. He chain smokes cigarettes as he jokes with the audience, then participates in bantering with his first guest. On these programs, Red Buttons appears in three of these opening acts with Gleason. Other guests include Frankie Avalon singing a kitschy version of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", Milton Berle in a long, belabored comedy bit with Gleason that seems endless and unfunny, Phil Silvers in a rare stand-up appearance, future "Brady Bunch" mom Florence Henderson, Edie Adams, Morey Amsterdam, Jan Murray, and, most amusingly, Nipsey Russell and an impossibly young George Carlin. The humor is clean and mainstream. Despite the tumultuous political situation going on during this period, there are just a few lightweight cracks about outgoing President Johnson and incoming President Nixon. The most politically incorrect jokes pertain to Gleason's penchant for self-deprecating remarks about his girth Today, he wouldn't be allowed to refer to himself as fat, but would probably have to say he's "vertically challenged." The episodes don't have consistent running times because the famed June Taylor Dancers, who performed on every show, are nowhere to be found, presumably due to rights issues- although they are mentioned in every introduction. The quality of the episodes is very good and one is impressed to realize just how few commercials viewers were subjected to in the good old days. Today, a show seems to consist primarily of ads with a few breaks for entertainment content. Although much of the humor in this set is rather dated and predictable, it is admittedly irresistible to watch all these great talents at various stages of their careers. We don't have variety shows any more in the traditional sense and we certainly don't have anyone of the stature of Jackie Gleason, who was a true "Man for All Seasons".
The late Joe Sarno was a pioneer in the "art" of producing, writing and directing New York sexploitation films. What set Sarno apart from many of his peers is that he attempted to bring a degree of integrity to his work by providing reasonably compelling story lines. This was especially true in the 1960s when the mainstreaming of adult films was becoming the norm in big cities, even as rural America was seemingly in a frenzy to do battle with the people who made them. Vinegar Syndrome has released a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD of one of Sarno's most ambitious projects, "Red Roses of Passion". Filmed in New York in late 1966, the film had a checkered theatrical release over the next couple of years. The B&W film is unusual for adult fare of the era because it delves into a plot that centers on the supernatural. Carla (Patricia McNair) is a rebellious young woman who is living with her cousin and aunt. She is bored to death by her aunt's conservative lifestyle and her cousin's plain vanilla boyfriend, who is always held up as the epitome of the responsible man to have in your life. Carla certainly wants a man in her life...seemingly any man but each time she sneaks a potential lover back to her room, her aunt thwarts her plans for an erotic evening. Carla's friend Enid convinces her to visit a fortune teller she has been frequenting, Martha. Carla complies and is suitably impressed when Martha is able to divulge personal information about Carla she could not possibly have known otherwise. Still, Martha is a strange one: humorless, dominating and demanding. Carla realizes that Martha is the mistress of the Cult of Pan, an erotic secret society that meets to engage in sex rites. A group of young women don see-through lingerie and indulge in all sorts of exotic rituals culminating in sipping "The Wine of Pan" and rubbing roses on each other. The combination of the two rituals brings the women to orgasmic pleasure before they offer themselves to "Pan"- who is, in reality, Martha's creepy brother who hides behind a curtain until it's time to preside over an orgy in which he is the only male. When no other women are around, Pan considers his own sister to be fair game.
In a scenario worthy of a "Twilight Zone" episode, Carla asks Martha if she can do anything to mitigate her aunt and cousin's prudish behavior. Martha instructs her to put some drops of Pan's Wine into their tea, which she does. Soon, a mysterious messenger arrives delivering a single rose to her aunt, who immediately begins rubbing it all over her body in a sex-crazed frenzy. Her daughter is appalled- until she gets the urge to do the same. Before long, the women are bonafide nymphomaniacs. Worse, they compete with each other to seduce the delivery man, who is, in fact, Pan. At one point mom and daughter engage in a rolling cat fight, clad only in their bras and panties. Before long they are having threesomes with men and trawling the back alleys to have sex with any available male. The action spills over back into their home where orgies become regular occurrences in their living room, giving an all new meaning to what a shag rug really means. Carla, meanwhile, is suffering pangs of guilt. She tells Martha she never meant to ruin the women's lives and pleads to have the spell broken. Martha said she can do so- but only if Carla agrees to be one of Pan's sex slaves forever.
After falling under Pan's spell, mother and daughter are compelled to compete with each other for lovers.
"Red Roses of Passion" isn't a hardcore sex film but it's content was pretty edgy for 1966- especially with scenes of mom and daughter both seducing the same lover (even "The Graduate"'s Benjamin didn't manage that with Mrs Robinson and her daughter at the same time.) The Satanic aspect of the script makes for a genuinely entertaining experience, thanks in no small part to the crisp cinematography of Anthony Lover (that's his real name. Honest.) One must view a film like this in context. Sarno had virtually no money, no professional actors and had to confine most of the shooting to interiors because the complications of filming on the streets of New York were too fraught with difficulties. Some of the performances are predictably amateurish but others are surprisingly effective. Sarno kills plenty of time by lingering too long on some of the rituals of the scantily clad women flaying each other with single stem roses but in the aggregate the movie is an impressive achievement. I should also mention that the music (not credited) also adds to the atmosphere with a strain that sounds similar to "The Third Man Theme" used sporadically to good effect.
The only bonus feature is a video interview with Sarno biographer and friend Michael Bowen, who provides plenty of interesting detail about Sarno's prolific career and the early days of shooting adult films in New York.
The Vinegar Syndrome transfer is excellent and it's too bad Sarno isn't around to enjoy seeing a first class presentation of his impressive "B" movie.
This is a limited edition of only 2,000 units. Click here to order from Amazon.
Athena Video has released "The Rise of the Nazi Party", a three disc DVD set comprised of all ten episodes from the acclaimed British documentary series that was telecast in the USA under the title "Nazis: Evolution of Evil". The fascination with Adolf Hitler and his criminal regime seems to only increase with time. While the documentaries cover well-worn turf, what makes this presentation notable is that the narrative concentrates on the inner workings of the Nazi party and the interaction between its key figures. The series uses dramatic recreations of major events interwoven with an abundance of actual newsreel footage and photographs. Clearly, a sizable sum had been spent on production values. The series interweaves contemporary footage of German locations with the historical films. While the notion is somewhat innovative, the shifting between old and new scenes can be somewhat distracting. That's about the only gripe, however. "The Rise of the Nazi Party" is a fascinating look at how a group of misfits, scoundrels and sadists rose to dominate one of the world's great nations. The series begins with the aftermath of WWI and correctly points out that the greed of the victorious Allied nations ironically helped nurture the rise of right wing extremism practiced by Hitler. The Allies insisted that German pay reparations for the war and the notorious Treaty of Versailles placed such onerous financial burdens on the German people that it risked turning the entire nation into a Third World country. The staggering debt was seen as a cash cow, particularly by Britain and France, the Allied countries that had suffered the most from the conflict. (Incredibly, Germany only recently made the final payments on its war debt.) Because WWI was such a senseless conflict caused by so many vague factors, the German people resented having the entire blame placed on them. As the financial situation in Germany worsened, hyperinflation devalued the German mark to the point where a loaf of bread could cost millions. Simultaneously, as the documentary points out, the Germans suffered another indignity when France sent armed legions to Germany's industrial region to occupy the territory and appropriate the revenues from factories. It was amid such a period of crisis that Adolf Hitler first became known. A decorated hero in the war, Hitler resented the military brass that had signed the Treaty of Versailles and in some warped fashion believed that a cabal of influential Jews were behind the strategy. His inexplicable but rabid anti-Semitism would characterize the entire Nazi movement. Even in its dying days, Hitler had the Nazi regime allocate enormous resources to continue his attempts to exterminate an entire people.
The documentary traces Hitler's first association with fringe groups who were calling for an overthrow of the weak Weimar Republic, a democratic government that had been imposed by the Allies but which had lost the confidence of the German people. Within a short time, the charismatic Hitler becomes the leader of the dissidents and moves to unite the fractions among them into the National Socialist Party. His first attempt to take the nation in a violent coup fails and he is imprisoned. However, behind bars he turns himself into a martyr to his cause by writing his influential memoir, Mein Kampf. When he emerges from jail, Hitler realizes the way to power is to bide his time and go through legal means. The Nazis grow in numbers and in strength but the everyday German doesn't believe they can ever win national offices. They were wrong. During the pivotal election cycle, the average German is lethargic and stays home from the polls while Hitler's fanatical followers turn out in droves. The Nazis become a major factor in the German political landscape. Ultimately, Hitler is appointed Chancellor under the aging but beloved President, von Hindenburg. Knowing that taking action against this national icon would backfire, he bides his time until von Hinderburg's death. He then appoints himself supreme leader of the nation, citing the need for a strong man with extraordinary powers to take on the many crisis facing Germany. The German reichstag all but votes themselves out of any meaningful power beyond being a body of "rubber-stampers" for Hitler's legislation. Within a short period of time, Hitler makes good on his promises. He authorizes massive public work projects that not only wipe out unemployment but also result in the nation having the most modern road system in the world. Worker's wages are raised and the average person's living standards rise appreciably. Hitler becomes a beloved icon. However, the dark side of this success is Hitler's calculated ability to split the population into "us" and "them", the latter being "undesirable" minorities, especially the Jews. He passes the Nuremberg Laws that effectively deprive German Jews of all civil rights- and it only gets worse from there. By rewarding Aryans with a good lifestyle, he correctly gambles that the average German won't do much to protest the persecution of the Jews. By the time he is committing wholesale genocide, many Germans are repulsed but are powerless to stop him. Hitler's obsession for expanding Germany's borders into Czechoslovakia and Austria are achieved without firing a shot, despite having blatantly violated the Treaty of Versailles. However, he miscalculates the Allies with his invasion of Poland, as evidenced by France and England declaring war. Hitler's fate is ultimately sealed when he makes the ill-advised decision to declare war on America in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He is now fighting an industrial giant with seemingly unlimited resources. This factor, coupled with his betrayal of the Soviet Union, it is only a matter of time before Germany is defeated.
The documentary also explores Hitler's love life (or lack thereof) and his obsession with his half-niece, who ultimately committed suicide, possibly because of his dictatorial control over her life. The show also delves into the rise of Hitler's top right hand men: Himmler, Goering, Goebbels and others. Among them is Ernst Rohm, an early supporter of Hitler who built his private body guard, the Brownshirts, into a major military force that virtually equaled the German army. In a sign of the backbiting that would characterize the Nazi brass, Hitler is manipulated by others into believing that Rohm is planning a coup. Thus, Hitler personally leads a raiding party on Rohm and his top men at a vacation resort where they are holding a conference. (It was actually a ruse for Rohm and his homosexual lovers to engage in sexual activities that Hitler felt were appalling for a true Aryan to participate in.) He orders his old friend to be executed. It would serve as a boiler plate for the inner rivalries and paranoia among his confidants that would dominate is reign as Fuhrer. (In the dying days of the Reich, both Himmler and Goering would betray Hitler by each presenting himself as the new Fuhrer and hoping to sue for peace.)
The purpose of the series is not to present the history of WWII. Certain major elements are covered in detail: the Holocaust, the disastrous invasion of the Soviet Union, the attempted assassinations against Hitler, the manipulation of Chamberlain at Munich, etc. However, other key events such as the invasion of Poland, the Hitler/Stalin pact and the fall of France are barely mentioned. The episodes are mostly concerned with the psyche of the Nazi brass. All of it is set to the pitch perfect narration of Joseph Kloska, who provides the necessary tone of gravitas. (Inexcusably, none of the actors who are seen throughout the entire series merit even a mention in the end credits.) There are the usual "talking heads" who provide analysis of the subject matter and these scholars are particularly interesting throughout. The final episode, "Aftermath", is one of the most compelling as it explores the breakout of the Cold War in the immediate aftermath of Germany's defeat. The Nuremberg Trials are covered in considerable detail and the episode bluntly addresses the decision by the United States to recruit notorious Nazi war criminals and whitewash their pasts in order to benefit from the technological knowledge these people had in the areas of science and espionage. (Wernher von Braun, who developed the first rocket technology, had the blood of thousands of slave laborers on his hands yet his indisputably built America's space program.)
The entire series is compelling throughout and will provide new perspectives for even the most devout WWII scholars. The set includes a booklet that features biographies of key Nazis along with a useful timeline of their rise and fall from power.
If there is a lesson to be learned from all of this, it's that when people in democracies are too lethargic to vote or become involved in the political process, the worst elements of society may one day seize power.
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I initially saw "Cops and Robbers" on its theatrical release in 1973. Strangely, I retained no memories of the film whatsoever except a few bars of the catchy title theme song by Michel Legrand. I say "strangely" because, upon watching the film's Blu-ray debut through Kino Lorber Studio Classics, I found the movie to be terrifically entertaining. Perhaps it's because terrifically entertaining films were a dime a dozen back in the 1970s that this particular movie didn't resonate with me at the time. Nevertheless, watching it today, it has a great many pleasures, not the least of which is two leading actors who were not familiar faces at the time, thus allowing the viewer to not have any preconceptions about their mannerisms or previous roles. The film was shot in New York City during a long period of urban decay. Poverty and crime were rising and the infrastructure was crumbling as the city came perilously close to declaring bankruptcy. It's a far cry from today's New York but at the time one benefit of all this chaos was that it inspired filmmakers to take advantage of the somber landscape and use it as fodder for some memorable films. Michael Winner's "Death Wish" and Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" administered the cinematic coup de grace, painting a picture of Gotham as a foreboding urban jungle. This was always overstated, of course, as there was never a period in which New York was in danger of losing its reputation as the most exciting city on earth. However, the grime and grit certainly did much to tarnish its reputation for a good number of years.
Among the films that represented this era was the little-remembered "Cops and Robbers", which is an offbeat entry in the genre of "dirty cop" movies that became popular during the 1970s. The twist is that, unlike the exploits of larger-than-life cops such as Dirty Harry or Popeye Doyle, this film centers on the day-to-day frustrations of two every day patrolmen - Tom (Cliff Gorman) and Joe (Joseph Bologna)- trying to cope with the frustrations of risking their lives for a salary of $43 a day. We watch as they car pool from their cramped suburban housing units to Manhattan, a daily trek of seemingly endless traffic jams that they must endure in the sweltering heat. (Yes, kiddies, most of us working class clods didn't have air conditioning in our cars in the 1970s.) Their familiar grind includes wrestling with mentally unstable people, watching fellow officers getting shot and having an ungrateful populace take them for granted. With wives and kids to provide for, they are at the end of their ropes. One day, Joe casually confesses to Tom that he recently walked into a liquor store in full uniform and held the place up at gunpoint. He only got a couple of hundred dollars, but was amazed at how easy it was to get away with- largely because everyone assumed the culprit was someone disguised as a New York City police officer. After all, although corruption was widespread even in this post-Serpico period, it was mostly carried out discreetly through payoffs and freebies. New York City cops did not commit overt robberies while on the job. Tom is initially appalled, but is also mesmerized by the prospect of using their positions of trust to carry out an even grander robbery: one that would put them on East Street for the rest of their lives. Using a disguise, Tom visits the domain of a local mob kingpin and discloses he and his partner are genuine members of the NYPD- and they want his help to work out a scam that will net both cops $1 million each. They are told to rob untraceable securities in the amount of $10 million, for which they will be paid a $2 million "commission". Tom and Joe create a daring plan to gain access to a major finance company on Wall Street on the very day that the Apollo 11 astronauts are receiving a ticker tape parade. Knowing the employees will be distracted, they enter the premises on the premise of checking out a minor matter. They bluff their way into the inner sanctum of the company president and hold him hostage while his secretary escorts Joe to a vault and gets the appropriate securities. As is the case in most good caper movies, things initially go well but unexpected snafus arise that threaten the cops' getaway. To say more would be to spoil the fun but suffice it to say that the climax of the movie finds them trying to collect the $2 million from the mob in the middle of Central Park- where both sides try to double-cross each other. The result is a wild car chase seems to doom not only the cops' getaway but the cops themselves.
Director Aram Avakian, working with producer Elliott Kastner, makes the most of the New York locations, eschewing studio sets for real places. This adds immeasurably to the realistic feel of the production. Both Joe Bologna and Cliff Gorman were exceptionally well cast and are completely convincing as urban cops. Bologna was starting to ride high on the heels of he and his wife Renee Taylor's success with "Lovers and Other Strangers" and "Made for Each Other". Gorman was primarily known for his acclaimed stage performance as Lenny Bruce but also won kudos for his role in William Friedkin's 1969 film production of "The Boys in the Band". He's so good in this film, you wonder why major stardom eluded him. There is also an abundance of good character actors including Dolph Sweet, Joe Spinell and Shepperd Strudwick. The witty screenplay is the work of Donald E. Westlake, a noted crime novelist who would later turn his script for the film into a successful book. Westlake only makes one creative misstep. It is essential in most crime movies that feature charismatic cads as anti-heroes that their victims are established as villains who don't deserve the sympathy of the viewer. From the classic caper flick "The Sting" to the long-running British TV series "Hustle", the targets of the con men must always be deemed to be cads. In Westlake's screenplay, the victims of the errant cops are every day, working people. Joe's stickup of the liquor store (seen over the opening credits) terrorizes innocent people. Their protracted plan to rip off the Wall Street firm similarly puts non-criminals in harm's way (although Westlake throws in a twist that is designed to water down the victim's plight). Watching the film through a modern viewpoint, when police corruption is no longer considered to be an acceptable part of every day life, the movie's disturbing celebration of officers who are violating their sacred duty to protect the public seems more distasteful today than it did at the time of the film's release. Even viewed within the context of the era, we can certainly sympathize with the cops' frustrations, but their turning to crime makes a mockery of most police officers who resist taking that path. Nevertheless, if you can overlook the sociological factors and accept the film as pure entertainment, it works wonderfully well.
The Kino Blu-ray is top quality and includes the original trailer as well as an interview with the late Joe Bologna, who provides some witty and interesting insights into the making of the movie. There is also a trailer for the similarly-themed crime caper comedy "Bank Shot" starring George C. Scott. (also available from Kino Lorber).
Kino Lorber has released a DVD of the acclaimed 2014 German documentary "From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses", based on the book by Siegfried Kracauer and directed and written by Rudiger Suchsland. The film traces cinematic achievements during Germany's brief fling with democracy between the two world wars. In the aftermath of the nation's disastrous defeat in WWI, the Weimar Republic was established, bringing democratic reforms to the country. It was a tumultuous period. Germany was virtually bankrupt after the war and the Allies, particularly France and England, soaked the nation with onerous damages that made it seem almost impossible for the country to ever recover. A dual-class system arose with those who were economically well-off and those who were the working class tradesmen and women who would toil for long hours often under inhumane conditions just to survive day-to-day. It was during this troubled era that German cinema rose to grand heights with a new generation of filmmakers who advanced the medium from being one of mere entertainment to being a reflection of social problems and values. For the first time, the impoverished lower classes were being championed. Ultimately, things began to turn around and a middle class emerged but fate was to intervene. A banking crisis and massive inflation, combined with the shock effects of the 1929 Great Depression, took its toll on the workers. Socialist and communist filmmakers made stirring movies that advocated a rising of the masses in protest, much as Russia had done in 1917. Meanwhile, the rich remained largely unaffected and Berlin became the center of a creative renaissance the likes of which modern Europe had never experienced. The city drew millions of visitors from around the world to revel in the new-found freedoms. Seemingly everyone was partying and there were major achievements in the theater and film. Progressive values were reflected in those films, as Germany was now a society in which females were suddenly liberated to live lifestyles that would have previously been considered Hedonistic. Homosexuality was out of the closet and gays and lesbians could live openly. The new freedoms would not last for long, however. The economic turbulence reflected by "the masses" would cause the population to veer to the hard right and National Socialism. The rise of Hitler would result in the repression of artistic freedoms and being gay meant imprisonment or death. The tumultuous era was chronicled by Christopher Isherwood in his "Berlin Stories", which, in turn, would form the basis of "Cabaret".
Rudiger Suchsland's remarkable documentary (German language, English sub-titles) chronicles the rise and fall of the one brief shining moment in which such talents as Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch, F.W. Murnau, Josef von Sternberg, Robert Siodmak and others revolutionized cinema and having it emerge as a major art form. The documentary affords us generous samples of the kinds of eye-popping visuals that are even more impressive today, given how primitive the tools were that these directors had to work with. Movies suddenly dealt with realistic issues, often in surrealistic ways. Some of the movies proved prescient regarding the fate that was in store for Germany. "Metropolis" chronicled the angry rise of oppressed masses in a futuristic society while "M"- ostensibly a crime thriller about the hunt for a serial killer of children- displayed brutish justice meted out by gangs who put the accused on trial in kangaroo courts. Not all cinematic fare was grim during this era, however. Hollywood-style musicals became popular and there emerged a new genre that was distinctly German: the "Mountain Films", natured-based stories that capitalized on the nation's vast beauty and the obsession with physical fitness. With the rise of National Socialism, many of the most talented German filmmakers saw the writing on the wall and emigrated to America, where they had long, fruitful careers. When Hitler assumed power, he engaged in the same tactics dictators and would-be dictators follow today: attacking and later controlling the free press and then turning the media over to propagandists who immediately quashed the great cinematic achievements of the Weimar era. Now films would reflect the state-run point of view and would be used to suppress and oppress society's "undesirables". The documentary only briefly covers the ascendancy of Hitler and his henchmen, instead concentrating on the movies made in the Weimar years. It's a remarkable film that serves not only as warning about the fragility of freedom and democracy, but also as a vehicle to experience these great works of art, most of which are fortunately available on home video.
The Kino Lorber release has an excellent transfer and contains the trailer for the documentary.
Premature Burial (1962) is the third of Roger Corman’s eight
film cycle of Technicolor extravaganzas loosely based on the writings of the
legendary masters of literary mysteries Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.Corman had previously successfully partnered
with Samuel J. Arkoff and James Nicholson of American International Pictures, the
trio having mutually enjoyed a tidy profit on their relatively modest
investment on two earlier Poe efforts, Fall
of the House of Usher (1960) and The
Pit and the Pendulum (1961).Corman
and the producers would eventually come to loggerheads regarding a fair and
equitable split of the The Pit and the
Pendulum box-office receipts – a not unforeseeable dispute as Arkoff,
Nicholson and Corman were all notorious for their penny-pinching proclivities.
In Corman’s recollection both Usher
and Pendulum brought in nearly two
million each in rentals on a “negative cost of some $200,000.”Corman was rankled by AIP’s tough contract clauses
so, as a true independent filmmaker, decided to finance his third Poe adaptation
through Pathé Lab who, in Corman’s own words, had “helped back some AIP
productions and did their print work.”
This time around Hollywood’s most industrious maverick would
lose his gambit.Upon learning of
Corman’s brash decision to leave the fold, AIP chose to leverage some economic
muscle.They contacted Pathé and threatened
to pull all of the company’s subsequent lab work from them should the deal with
Corman proceed.Arkoff and Nicholson then
brazenly and effectively bought out Pathé’s interest in Corman’s new project, this
time a liberal retelling of Poe’s short story of 1844, The Premature Burial.
Premature Burial is a visually stunning film and a worthy
successor to Corman’s two earlier efforts.There’s absolutely no reason why it wouldn’t be as all three films share
several key behind-the-camera talents.The
most notable returnee is Director of Photography Floyd Crosby, on hand for his
third atmospheric rendering of a Poe film.This time around he works in perfect tandem with the Goth styling’s of
set designer/art director Daniel Haller.There are also some fresh faces on set as well.Film editor Ronald Sinclair took the cutting
reins from Anthony Carras on Poe film no. 3, with the lush orchestrations of
Ronald Stein replacing the more avant-garde and jazzy styling of Les Baxter.Corman’s assistant director on this new
project was a young and ambitious transplant from the east coast, Francis Ford
The single most crucial element missing from The Premature Burial is, of course, the
most obvious: Vincent Price.Stories
vary on Price’s non-participation in the project.Corman recollects that, upon learning he was
about to go rogue, “AIP, aware of my intentions, locked Vincent into an
exclusive contract.”Other film
historians discount this, noting that Price’s three film contract with AIP had already
ended with The Pit and the Pendulum.Price and his wife took off for Europe in the
spring of 1961 where he was to appear in two Italian peplums – a genre all the
rage in 1961.Though Milland turns in a
worthy, professional performance as the emotionally wrought and self-haunted Guy
Carrell in The Premature Burial, he
wasn’t able to capture the elegant, self-tortured mania that Vincent Price
easily brought to similar roles.When The Premature Burial brought in only
half the rentals following its release in the spring of 1962 – this extreme
financial fall-off despite having enjoyed the same budget as the two earlier
Poe adaptations - AIP wisely chose to bring Price back into the fold.The independent Price was happy to return as
he was offered a long-term, non-exclusive contract by AIP, thereby allowing him
to keep his options open.
Lorber has released Mario Bava’s “Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” (1970) in a
handsome, restored Blu-ray edition as part of its extensive “Mario Bava
Collection.”The disc will please
devotees of the late Italian director, whose wide range of genre work is
evident in this and the fifteen other Blu-rays that Kino Lorber has released in
its series, from the celebrated Gothic trappings of “Black Sunday” (1960) to
the Bond-era burlesque of “Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs” (1966).Bava is revered by his enthusiasts as one of
the pre-eminent directors of horror and giallo in the 1960s Italian cinema, but
like other workaday filmmakers in the busy European studios of the time, he
made pretty much every kind of picture there was to make, riding successive
surges of popularity for horror, sword-and-toga epics, westerns, thrillers, and
sex comedies. “Roy Colt and Winchester
Jack” was the third of Bava’s three Italian Westerns -- a genre that paid the
bills, but one that Bava wasn’t especially fond of, as Tim Lucas notes in his
audio commentary for the Blu-ray.Of
Bava’s approach to “Roy Colt,” Lucas relates: “On the first day of shooting,
when he learned that no one was particularly enamored of the script, Bava threw
his copy into the nearest mud puddle and said, ‘Screw it, let’s have fun
the film, Roy (Brett Halsey) and Jack (Charles Southwood) are leaders of an
outlaw gang.The two partners split up
when Roy decides to try his fortune on the right side of the law.Going straight, he pins on a sheriff’s badge
and agrees to retrieve a cache of buried gold for Samuel (Giorgio Gargiullo), a
devious banker.In the meantime, Jack
continues to rob stages and saves a pretty Indian woman, Manila (Marilu Tolo),
from bounty hunters after she kills her abusive husband.Manila encourages Jack’s romantic advances
but shrewdly charges for her favors.Another outlaw, the Reverend (Teodoro Corra), follows the trail of
Samuel’s gold, and the storyline eventually settles into a familiar Spaghetti
Western pattern.The three rivals --
Roy, Jack, and the Reverend, with Manila as a fourth wild card -- alternately
help and double-cross each other to reach the promised riches first.
commentary suggests that “Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” began as a
straightforward action script by Mario di Nardo, and then turned into a comedy
when Bava suggested that he and the actors “have fun instead.”Bava’s decision to send up his material may
have been partially influenced by the success of 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the
Sundance Kid,” but it also coincided with a fundamental change in the genre
itself.With the success of another 1970
Italian Western, Enzo Barboni’s “Trinity Is My Name,” the genre began to skew
from violent, sometimes operatic stories of revenge and betrayal to lowbrow
farces that were geared (it’s said) to the tastes of working-class audiences in
the poorer sections of Italian cities and towns.The staple elements of these Spaghetti
lampoons included slapstick brawls, rather cruel visual jokes ridiculing
physical and mental infirmities, childish sexual innuendo, and infantile
delight in gastric embarrassments.Dubbed prints of Barboni’s movie, its sequel, “Trinity Is Still My
Name,” and other comedy Spaghettis traveled overseas to drive-ins and
small-town theaters in the U.S., arguably preparing the way for Mel Brooks‘
wildly popular, fart-laden Western parody, “Blazing Saddles,” in 1974.“Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” incorporates
the usual characteristics of the comedy Spaghettis, notably in a rudely
gratuitous scene built around a gunslinger’s extreme facial and verbal
tics.More sophisticated audiences are
likely to squirm, but at that, thanks to Bava’s sure visual sense and a capable
cast, his film is easier to bear than most Spaghetti farces.Pictures like “It Can Be Done, Amigo” (1972),
“Life Is Tough, Eh Providence” (1972), “The Crazy Bunch” (1974), and “Shoot
First, Ask Questions Later” (1975) are guaranteed to try the souls of all but
the most dedicated genre fans.
Kino Lorber Blu-ray edition of “Roy Colt and Winchester Jack” features a
superlative 2K restoration from the original 35mm negative.Other extras include the original Italian
voice track with English subtitles, a partial English track, and the
aforementioned commentary by Tim Lucas with a wealth of information about the
film, Bava, and Italian cinema in general.
Blue Underground’s double-feature Blu Ray issue of Code 7… Victim 5 and Mozambique is a generous release considering
the company chose to simultaneously issue both films as standalone DVDs.Both films are among the earliest big screen
efforts of notorious exploitation producer Harry Alan Towers.Both were adapted from Tower’s own
semi-original scenarios (under his usual pseudonym of “Peter Welbeck”) and both
were penned by the Australian screenwriter Peter Yeldham with British director Robert
Lynn at the helm.
Both men had been working in television and, like Towers,
were now gingerly testing the waters of the international movie business.The films, modest thrillers financed by
Tower’s UK Company “Towers of London,” nonetheless share a continental roster
of technicians and actors.The films are
serviceably entertaining as thrillers, but are most ambitious in conveying a
jet-setting ‘60s ambiance.The fact that
Towers brought his international crew to southern Africa to film is the most
notable feature of both efforts.
“Africa is changing,” the ruthless drug smuggler Da Silva
sighs to a shady Arabian client in Mozambique
(1964).“The best days are
gone.”Indeed they were… or soon would
be.Just as location shooting was being
completed on this fictional thriller set in the tiny, East African province of
Mozambique, a coalition of real-life indigenous anti-colonialists and communist
guerilla fighters were combining to upset centuries-long Portuguese rule.As a decade-long bloody civil war would soon
follow in the wake of the filming of this Technicolor/Technoscope drama, it’s unlikely
that any subsequent team of filmmakers from British or continental Europe would
be warmly welcomed in the years going forward.
The South African locations of this disc’s companion film
Code 7… Victim 5 are cosmopolitan and
glittering in presentation; conversely the photography of the plaintive Mozambique
countryside captures a far more sober and undeveloped region.Aside from breathless images capturing
beautiful oceanside views - sightlines unblemished by tourist constructions -
the countryside of Mozambique circa
1963 is revealed as poor and agricultural.
The two films offered on this disc do share similarities
aside from their exotic African settings.Not the least of these is that both films open with very public
assassinations of characters mostly tangential to the film’s plotlines.Code 7
opens with the daylight murder – by a team of menacing clown-faced assassins –
during Capetown’s New Year’s Eve Carnival parade.Mozambique
opens similarly with a mysterious assassination atop the winding, ancient stone
stairwells of old Lisbon.
American actor Steve Cochran plays Brad Webster, a down-on-his-luck Cessna
pilot.We first encounter Webster as he
trawls about Lisbon’s bleak waterfront in search of employment.His blacklisting as a pilot-for-hire is
understandable as his previous assignment didn’t go all that well.Both of his passengers were killed in a crash
of his piloted small craft, leaving Webster the lone survivor.
For better or worse, his fortunes change following a
desperate, alcohol fueled fight in a waterfront saloon.Faced with a probable sixty day jail sentence
for vagrancy and public fisticuffs, Lisbon authorities mysteriously offer Webster
an alternative.A certain Colonel Valdez
residing in Mozambique is looking to hire a small-craft pilot on the down
low.The police offer Webster one-way airfare
from Lisbon to their colonial territory should he choose to accept the deal.
He does.Once aboard
his Lufthansa flight to Mozambique,
the sweating heavily, PTSD-afflicted Webster meets the comely blond Christina
(Vivi Bach).Christina too,
coincidentally, was also sent a one-way ticket at the behest of the mysterious
Colonel Valdez.So begins an improbable
romance between this middle-aged and craggy American and a beautiful young
woman in her twenties.In truth, actor
Cochran is perhaps a bit too long-in-the-tooth to pull off this charade as a
dashing hero and paramour.
In the opening scene of Republic Pictures “The Man Who
Died Twice,” (1950) a car drives along a mountain road and two cops in a patrol
car remark that it’s nightclub owner T. J. Brennon (Don Megowan) passing by.
Next thing you know the car goes off a cliff and explodes in flames. Then a
woman (Vera Ralston) gets out of a cab in front of her apartment building and
looks up at the balcony where two men are fighting. She shrieks in horror as
one of the men comes plummeting down and lands on the sidewalk at her feet. Splat!
She watches as the other man climbs up a fire escape ladder to the roof. But
not before a third man appears on the balcony and the guy on the fire escape
shoots him. Vera Ralston faints from all the excitement and falls on the
pavement next to the fallen corpse.
The cops show up almost immediately, revealing that the
two dead men are members of the narcotics squad and the unconscious woman (whom
they just leave lying there on the concrete until the ambulance arrives) is
none other than Lynn Brennon, wife, now widow, of T. J. Brennon, the guy who
went over the cliff. All this in just the first few minutes of this low-budget
70-minute crime movie directed at a frantic pace by Joe Kane, veteran of
countless Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies., and penned by Richard C. Sarafian,
who would later be best known as the director of “Vanishing Point” (1971), the
ultimate car-chase movie.
“The Man Who Died Twice” is a pulpy story that borrows a
lot from other crime and gangster movies of that era. It’s a coincidence, I
suppose, that this film was released the same week as Don Siegel’s “The
Lineup,” but the similarities in the two films are pretty striking. The
McGuffin (Hitchcock’s term for the thing everybody’s after) in both films is a missing
stash of heroin. In both films, dangerous drug dealers want their drugs back
and will stop at nothing to get them. In both films two of the more interesting
characters are a couple of gunsels who arrive from out of town to get the goods
back for their employers and in both films the heroin is stuffed inside a doll.
It makes you wonder if Serafian and Stirling Silliphant, who wrote “The Lineup,”
had some kind of competition going to see who could turn out the better script
using the same story elements. Silliphant wins that one hands down.
The gunsels In “The Lineup,” are played by Eli Wallach
and Robert Keith. Gerald Milton and Richard Karlan handle the roles of Hart and
Santoni in “The Man Who Died Twice.” While not quite on a level with Wallach
and Keith, they do a good job as the two killers. Milton is particularly nasty in
a casual kind of way in a scene in their hotel room when he hears a cat meowing
outside the door. He goes out in the hall, picks it up and puts out on the
window sill and then shuts the window. Karlan yells, “Hey, what’s the matter
with you. It’s three stories down.” Milton keeps calling his wife back home only to be disturbed by the fact
that she’s never there when he calls. He tells Karlan that one time a bartender
pal gave him the number of a hot babe, if he ever wanted a good time. Half-drunk
he put the number in his pocket and didn’t look at it until the next day and
found it was his home phone number!
Vera Ralston as Lynn Brennon was only 35 at the time this
film was made but she looks tired and bored. She was an ice skating star back
in her native Czechoslovakia when Republic Studios chief Herbert J. Yates
brought her to the U.S. and tried to make her a star. She made over 20 features
for Republic but despite Yates’s efforts audiences did not really accept her, and
she quit acting after “The Man Who Died Twice.”
The leading man in this B-movie extravaganza is Rod
Cameron, who has about as much charisma as a side of beef. Better known for his
westerns, he plays Bill Brennon, T.J.’s brother, who had sent him a telegram
asking for help, which was unusual because he and Bill hadn’t spoken in 15
years. But you know how it is, when your brother sends you a wire saying he’s
in trouble, you gotta do something about it. Right?
Kino Lorber has released the 1968 espionage thriller "The High Commissioner" on Blu-ray. The film, which was titled "Nobody Runs Forever" in it's UK release, is significant in that it paired two charismatic leading men- Rod Taylor and Christopher Plummer- in a low-key but well-scripted tale that sustains interest throughout. The film is based on John Cleary's novel and presents some offbeat and refreshing elements for a spy movie made at the height of the James Bond-inspired phenomenon. Most refreshingly, the two protagonists are Australians, a rare instance in which heroes from "Down Under" are showcased in a non-Australian movie of the era. Taylor plays Scobie Malone, a tough-as-nails police officer in the Northern Territory who is content to fulfill his job of keeping order in the Outback and arresting small-time trouble makers. He is reluctantly assigned to travel to London for an unusual mission: to bring back the Australian High Commissioner, Sir James Quentin (Plummer) and have him stand trial on charges that he murdered his first wife many years before. When Scobie arrives in London, he realizes that the timing of his mission could not be more sensitive: Quentin is hosting an important diplomatic conference with African leaders in the hope of finalizing a major treaty that could affect the balance of power in the African continent. The world is watching as Quentin tries to iron out details to make the treaty a reality. When Scobie informs him of his assignment, Quentin seems curiously nonplussed about the nature of the charges against him- but he is quite concerned by the fact that his sudden absence from the conference would almost certainly cause the talks to collapse. He imposes on Scobie to give him a few additional days to sort out the final details on the treaty. Scobie takes an instant liking to Quentin and his adoring wife Sheila (Lilli Palmer), and agrees with the request. Scobie's cover story to Sheila is that he is simply acting as a bodyguard to Quentin, but she seems to suspect his real motive is more nefarious. When an attempt is made on Quentin's life, Scobie is instrumental in thwarting it. The two men ultimately bond as friends and Scobie begins to suspect that Quentin could not have possibly murdered his first wife. Why then is the Australian government convinced he had? More pressing is solving the problem of who is behind the assassination attempt on Quentin and who in his inner circle is a mole. It appears a shadowy organization feels threatened by the chances of the treaty succeeding- and wants to thwart it by killing Quentin.
"The High Commissioner" is a film that plays best if not examined in detail because there are plenty of loosely-developed plot points. It's never quite explained why Scobie was taken all the way from the Outback for this particular assignment. Surely the government could have found one equally capable law enforcement officer who was a bit more accessible. It also becomes clear that the plot to thwart the conference is just the "MacGuffin" in that it's never thoroughly explained who the bad guys are or why they feel threatened by Quentin's peace conference. Nor do we learn precisely what is being negotiated at the conference. What we do have are some intriguing characters including two of the most glamorous actresses of the period: Daliah Lavi, in full dangerous femme fatale mode as a seductive enemy agent and Camilla Sparv as Quentin's loyal secretary who holds a not-so-secret crush on him. While on assignment, Scobie allows himself to be seduced by Lavi (who wouldn't?) but remains chaste with Sparvi's character, so as to not impede his professional standing with the Quentins. The film moves along at a brisk pace under the direction of Ralph Thomas, who had recently helmed two other spy flicks- "Deadlier Than the Male" and "Agent 8 3/4" (aka "Hot Enough for June". ) Thomas showcases Taylor's rugged good looks by giving him Bondian opportunities to wear tuxedos and engage in plenty of mayhem. The film's climax takes place at Wimbledon, where the villains intend to assassinate Quentin by using a gun placed inside a television camera. The murder charges against Quentin come to a head in an emotional discussion Scobie has with Sheila, though her explanation for his innocence seems rather weak. The film builds to a fiery and explosive final scene that is undermined only shoddy special effects.
The best aspect of "The High Commissioner" is that it provides a good role for Rod Taylor, one of the most charismatic leading men of the 1960s. Taylor was usually cast as American or British characters because he had mastered both accents, but here he is allowed to talk like a native Australian, which, in fact, he was. Equally at home in posh cocktail parties or flailing away at the bad guys, Taylor was the epitome of the charming tough guy. Plummer also gets an interesting role though the character is never fully developed and plays second-fiddle to Taylor's. Nevertheless, he embellishes the much-besieged Quentin with quiet dignity even when narrowly dodging bombs and bullets. Lilli Palmer is especially poignant as Quentin's ever-faithful but long-suffering wife who is harboring a terrible secret that figures in the explosive climax. There is also an impressive supporting cast that includes Clive Revill as a butler whose allegiance may be in question, Calvin Lockhart as a handsome international man of mystery and an unrecognizable, black-haired Derren Nesbitt as a villain. The lush locations begin in Australia before moving to London, where director Thomas capitalizes on them. Interiors were shot at Pinewood Studios.
The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is up to the company's usual fine standards and includes the original trailer. Recommended.
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” is an
often-quoted line from John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” And if director
Walter Hill had stuck to that idea, his “Wild Bill” (1995) would be a great
movie, instead of a near miss. Unfortunately, he mixed legend with pure hogwash
and the result is a confusing hodgepodge of scenes connected only by the fact
that James Butler Hickok (Jeff Bridges) hated it when somebody messed with his
You know a director intends to make a “serious” western
when he starts the film out by showing the central character’s funeral. “Wild
Bill” begins not only with a funeral, but a funeral shot in high-contrast,
grainy black and white. In fact the film keeps switching from color to black
and white for numerous flash back scenes, depicting “events” from Bill’s early
life, some of which are complete fiction.
Attending the funeral are his on-again-off-again
sweetheart Calamity Jane (Ellen Barkin) and Charlie Prince (John Hurt), an
Englishman who has drifted out West for the excitement. Prince narrates the
story. The first act of “Wild Bill” is the most interesting section of the
film—a series of famous episodes from Hickok’s life shown very briefly in quick
tableau. We see Bill shoot it out with half a dozen buffalo hunters intent on
robbing him of his hides. The fight is triggered when he steps up to the bar
and one of them lifts the hat off his head. He turns and smashes him with the
back of his hand and next thing you know, guns are blazing. When it’s over and
the buffalo hunters are all dead Bill goes back to the bar and says: “They need
to understand. You never touch a man’s hat.”
Another scene depicts the famous incident in Abilene, Kansas
when Hickok as sheriff tried to stop roundup revelers from tearing up the town
and accidentally killed his own deputy. (For a nice treatment of that true
incident check out the half-hour “Gunsmoke” episode called “The Roundup,” with
Matt Dillon killing an old friend who had substituted for an ailing Chester). Another
scene shows Hickok giving an embarrassing performance in Buffalo Bill Cody’s
(Keith Carradine) Wild West show.
Problems with the story really start soon after Hickok
arrives in Deadwood Gulch, Dakota Territory, where, as we all know, it’s just a
matter of time before he stares down at those aces and eights (the Dead Man’s Hand),
and gets shot in the back of the head by Jack McCall. In Deadwood he’s reunited
with his old flame Calamity, Charlie Prince and an old traveling companion named
California Joe (James Gammon). The reunion with Calamity is a sad one, however.
Bill no longer has any interest in rekindling the flame. In another flashback
we learn he is going blind from glaucoma that was probably caused by syphilis. Their
relationship is a portrait of sadness, anger and frustration.
Hill’s screenplay is based on Pete Dexter’s “Deadwood”
(the basis of the HBO series) and “Fathers and Sons,” a play by Thomas Babe. Where
it goes wrong is in the fabrication that Jack McCall (David Arquette) was the
son of a woman named Susannah Moore (Diane Ladd), whom Hickok had loved and abandoned.
McCall wants to kill Hickok out of revenge for his cold-hearted treatment of
his mother. There are more flashback scenes showing what happened between Bill
and Susannah, but none of it ever happened in real life. It makes for
interesting, if sentimental, drama but it’s unnecessary and only muddles the
story. The fact is that McCall was just a tinhorn drunk who had lost all his money
to Wild Bill in a poker game and was humiliated when Bill took pity on him and
gave him some money to get something to eat. The next day he came back in the
saloon in a drunken rage, called him a name and shot him from behind. McCall,
in one of two trials that were held on the case tried to argue that Wild Bill
had killed his younger brother, but the truth of that allegation was never
With the untimely death of Peter Sellers in 1980, his long-time collaborator, writer/director Blake Edwards decided to create a "tribute" to his iconic star of their "Pink Panther" series by filming not just one, but two sequels simultaneously. The decision was not without controversy as virtually everyone in the film industry was aware of the fact that the two men had long ago come to loathe each other but continued to work together because of the success of the "Panther" franchise. The first sequel, "Trail of the Pink Panther" was a cut-and-paste job incorporating clips from Sellers' original films as Inspector Jacques Clouseau along with unseen outtakes that were cobbled together to form a plot in which Clouseau goes inexplicably missing in the second half of the film (only because Edwards had run out of outtakes.) The film sets the premise for the second sequel, "Curse of the Pink Panther" (1983) which was designed to introduce a suitable replacement for the Sellers/Clouseau persona in the form of a new character. Edwards originally approached then red-hot Dudley Moore, who declined to be tied to a film franchise. He then went in the opposite direction and hired Ted Wass, a veteran of the TV sitcom "Soap", to take on the challenge of establishing himself as Sellers' successor. It was a tall order especially for a young actor who had never made a feature film and who was completely ignorant of the process. Still, it represented an offer he couldn't refuse. The script picks up where "Trail" leaves off with the world galvanized by the authorities' attempts to find what happened to "the world's greatest detective". Leading the frantic investigation is French Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom), Clouseau's long-suffering boss and a klutz in his own right. Dreyfus is secretly thrilled that Clouseau has gone missing and may be dead but he's forced to oversee the search efforts. In a scene that seems inspired by "Our Man Flint", he utilizes a computer to come up with the name of the sleuth who is most qualified to take on the mission. Through a quirk, the resulting answer puzzles everyone: it turns out to be Clifton Sleigh (Ted Wass), an inept New York City police officer who, like Clouseau, has gained a reputation for efficiency despite his constant bumbling. Sleigh's own harried boss is thrilled to send him packing off to Paris to take on the investigation. Sleigh's first meeting with Dreyfus quickly crushes the latter's hopes that he might finally be working in alliance with a capable detective. The simple act of crossing room and shaking Dreyfus's hand results in Sleigh stumbling and knocking the French lawman out of a window, resulting in being hospitalized, as he had so often been due to Clouseau's ineptness. Lom's comic timing was always a major asset to the series and he's in top form here.
The story then finds Sleigh on hunt across exotic European locations in search of Clouseau. It's a journey that rapidly becomes wearying despite Edwards' attempts to liven the proceedings with frequent scenes of slapstick humor. Sleigh meets up with Cato (Burt Kwouk), Sellers' longtime man servant, who has now established their apartment as a museum in honor of his employer, replete with wax figurines representing Clouseau's greatest disguises. The scene seems more like another desperate gimmick on the part of Edwards to summon the presence of Sellers, even if its in the form of a wax model. Along the way, Sleigh also encounters characters from the early "Panther" films including those played by David Niven, Robert Wagner and Capucine (all of whom filmed their reunion scenes for "Trail" with the understanding that some of the footage would be utilized in "Curse"). The assemblage of these notable stars is one of the few inspired aspects of "Curse" and it's a joy to see them together, even though the ailing Niven had to be re-voiced by impressionist Rich Little, who did a very commendable job of it. A gangster played by Robert Loggia is introduced into the convoluted plot that takes on an "everything-but-the-kitchen sink" aspect and another character from Clouseau's past, Prof. Balls makes a couple of brief appearances to little effect despite the fact that the role is played once again by the great comedic second banana Harvey Korman. The proceedings drag on through flat and completely predictable sight gags, some of which go on interminably (i.e Sleigh in drag as an undercover cop in New York and later using a blow-up sex doll in an attempt to convince bystanders she is his girlfriend. There's also a seemingly endless fight scene in which Sleigh takes on the baddies with the help of a sexy female martial arts expert). What is most shocking about "Curse" is how the timing is off on almost every comedic set-up, which is rather surprising given the fact that Edwards originated the series and professed to care about it immensely. It would be easy to blame Ted Wass for the film's failure but in reality the young star gamely performs his required duties with admirable skill. However, he's hampered by a poorly-developed character and Edwards seemed convinced that the mere intention to name him as Sellers' successor would immediately win over audiences. However, Wass's Sgt. Sleigh is merely a klutz with none of the fabled eccentricities of his predecessor. The fact that he wears over-sized eyeglasses that make him look remarkably like Christopher Reeve's Clark Kent only adds to his burden. The film only comes alive in the final act with an extended and clever cameo appearance by Roger Moore (amusingly billed as "Turk Thrust II", a reference to Bryan Forbes' screen credit in "A Shot in the Dark"), who was simultaneously filming the James Bond movie "Octopussy" on another sound stage at Pinewood Studios. Moore's deft comedic timing steals the entire latter part of the film and left this viewer pondering that, had he been the star of the production, the movie might not have been so ill-fated. It must be said, however, that the film does boast one other positive aspect: the traditional, wonderfully animated opening credits that make it all the more apparent how frustrating movies seem today in the sense that they usually eschew opening credits all together. An entire art form is vanishing from the industry in the urge to "cut to the chase" and get immediately into the story.
Blake Edwards originally envisioned that the Ted Wass series of "Panther" films would be moved to New York City, partly to accommodate MGM's insistence that the franchise become more budget-oriented. The unpromising prospects that scenario afforded were circumvented by the failure of the movie. But the problems didn't end there. Edwards accused MGM of intentionally low-balling the film's release and not marketing it aggressively enough. The suit was settled out of court in 1988. The title "Curse of the Pink Panther"s seemed eerily prophetic for all concerned.
Chances are you've never heard of "Hollow Creek" (or "A Haunting in Hollow Creek", per the UK release title). It's a low-budget ($500,000) indie film that was made under the auspices of the Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theatre, an admirable venture that encourages film industry professionals to mentor promising younger talents in the hopes that they will be able to create inventive new feature films. "Hollow Creek" was written by an alumnus of the Institute, director Guisela Moro, who also has the female lead. The film was co-written by the male star, Steve Daron. It's an ambitious crime thriller by way of supernatural elements that looks more expensive and polished than its budget might indicate. The film, which sat on a shelf for three years, was released in 2016 and was recently made available on DVD and Amazon Prime streaming service. The plot starts off in a leisurely manner: bestselling horror novel writer Blake Blackman (Daron) arrives at his agent's vacation home located in the deep woods of rural West Virginia. He's accompanied by Angelica Santoro (Moro), who we initially presume to be his wife. Blackman is there to write his next novel but he's secretly harboring an obstacle: a severe case of writer's block. Not helping matters are the sexual distractions afforded him by Angelica, who we learn is actually his mistress. Blackman's marriage has been fragile for some time and he relishes the time spent with Angelica- but their bliss will be short-lived. While Blackman is preoccupied by trying to fill blank pages for his next book, Angelica becomes unsettled by some eerie and inexplicable events including indications someone or something is lurking in the nearby woods. She also has a brief glimpse of the ghostly apparition of a young boy. She later learns that the area has been on edge for the last few years due to the unsolved disappearances of three boys. When she thinks she recognizes one of them in the back seat of a dilapidated old vehicle, she gives chase in true Lois Lane fashion. She discovers that two of the boys have been held captive and literally kept in cages in a hidden chamber in house owned and occupied by a crazy, sadistic couple. Angelica, who has just learned she is three months pregnant with Blackman's child, is captured and imprisoned with the expectation that her child will belong to her insane captors. Meanwhile, the frantic Blackman's life begins to unravel. He's released from contract by his publishing house, his wife files for divorce and due to circumstantial evidence, he is the police department's prime suspect in Angelica's disappearance. Nevertheless, he doggedly pursues finding out what happened to Angelica and rescuing her if he can.
Were it not for some of the more sordid elements, "Hollow Creek" would have fit well into the ABC Movie of the Week productions that were telecast on TV in the 1970s. That's meant as a compliment, not a knock. The film isn't without flaws. It has a primary plot loophole in that, when Angelica goes missing, it's never explained what happened to her SUV, which was parked near the villain's house. Additionally, the film's chaotic but exciting conclusion incorporates elements of the supernatural that seem somewhat superfluous since the film succeeds on the level of being a compelling real-life crime saga. Nevertheless, it's an extraordinarily accomplished work for the aspiring director and her cast. Moro certainly doesn't give herself an easy time of it. In addition to having written and directed "Hollow Creek", she puts her character through the ringer, having to endure torture and death threats from her sadistic captors. Although the film has unsettling aspects to it, Moro refreshingly doesn't bleed into slasher territory and shows restraint when it comes to crossing the line into showing repulsive imagery. She gives a terrific performance, as does Steve Daron. The supporting cast is also exceptional with not a false note to be found. Burt Reynolds makes a brief but effective appearance in an obvious gesture to lend the credibility of his name to the film. The movie is impressively scored and shot, though cinematographer Jon Schellenger can't resist being a bit gimmicky by utilizing a distracting technique of filming some scenes inexplicably in a garish blue hue. The finale packs in some cliches and predictable action scenes but there is an imaginative and moving finale.
The FilmRise DVD boasts an excellent transfer, but frustratingly there are no extras. It would have been interesting to hear the perspectives of the principals regarding how the film was made. "Hollow Creek" is an impressive, often spellbinding thriller. If there's any justice, we should be hearing more from Guisela Moro and Steve Daron.
In the wake of their success co-starring in John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, Warner Brothers realized they had captured lightning in a bottle with the teaming of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. The studio quickly paired the two character actors again in the Bogart films Casablanca and Passage to Marseilles. In 1944, Warners decided to give Greenstreet and Lorre what amounted to starring roles in the thriller The Mask of Dimitrios, based on the Eric Ambler novel and set in pre-WWII Europe. (Lorre received fourth billing in the film behind Greenstreet, Zachary Scott and Faye Emerson, but in terms of screen time, he is the star of the movie.) Lorre plays Cornelius Leyden, a mild mannered crime novelist who is visiting Istanbul, where he becomes intrigued by the murder of a man named Dimitrios, who was a local legend in terms of his criminal activities. Dimitrios's body has washed ashore, as shows evidence that he has been stabbed to death. Sensing a good story in the murder, Leyden pursues the man's background and finds out he was known throughout Europe for his audacious crimes. Leyden decides to track down those who interacted with Dimitrios, including jilted partner and abandoned girlfriends. All agree that he was a charismatic cad who worked his way up from petty crimes in Istanbul to being an integral part of Europe's pre-war espionage activities. Leyden is followed in his footsteps by Peters (Sydney Greenstreet), an affable man of mystery who is also obsessed with tracking down Dimitrios's acquaintances and activities leading up to the man's death. After a rocky introduction at the point of Peters' gun, the two men forge an alliance and travel through Turkey, Yuguoslavia and finally Paris in their quest. Along the way, they determine that Dimitrios is very much alive and well, having used another man's murder as an opportunity to fake his own death. Peters is determined to use that information to blackmail Dimitrios and thus ensure acquiring enough money to afford a comfortable retirement.
Much of the story is told in flashbacks as various individuals relate their experiences with Dimitrios to Leyden and Peters. As played by Zachary Scott, Dimitrios lives up to his legend as handsome womanizer and persuasive businessman, though each of his friends and partners ends up being abruptly jilted in some manner, as Dimitrios moves on to his next scam. (Jack Warner had high hopes for Scott becoming the studio's next great leading man, but his interest in promoting Scott seemed to wane and the actor never really acquired the stardom that his role in this film would seem to have assured.) Leyden and Peters also meet Irana, an entertainer in a squalid Istanbul cafe, who relates how Dimitrios became her lover and ensured that her fortunes improved. However, when she loaned him her savings, he abandoned her, never to be heard from again. Although nursing a broken heart and bearing resentment for the man on one level, she admits she still carries a torch and his abandonment of her left her in a depressed state of mind that still continues. (Apparently, once you've experienced Dimitrios, no other man comes to close as a lover.) As Leyden and Peters close in on their prey, the stakes become higher - and they realize their lives are very much at risk.
The Mask of Dimitrios, ably directed by Jean Negulesco, is a joy to watch. It doesn't have the artistic pretensions of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, but it is a thoroughly entertaining movie. Lorre and Greenstreet's "Mutt and Jeff" act continues to present them as essentially the same character in film after film, but that doesn't in any way compromise the delight of watching these two eccentric actors at the peak of their careers. The supporting performances are also equally delightful and the film bares all the rich artistic hallmarks of a WB release from the era.
The Warner Archive has released the film as a burn-to-order DVD. The transfer is excellent. An original trailer is included that features specially-filmed footage of Greenstreet and Lorre addressing the audience. The DVD is region free.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE
Warner Archive has released the little-remembered 1969 adventure film Kenner. Although we'll watch Brown in virtually anything, this film is pretty much a klunky, under-scripted misfire, directed by Steve Sekely, who specialized in B movies. (His greatest success was Day of the Triffids.) Brown plays the title role of Roy Kenner, a rugged, no-nonsense seafarer who arrives in Bombay ostensibly to locate an old friend who has gone missing. In fact, he's trying to track down a ruthless criminal named Jordan (Charles Horvath), a one-time partner whose double crossing ways resulted in the death of Kenner's best friend. The film's misguided premise is to show the touchy-feely side of Brown when virtually no one went to his films looking for his touchy-feely side. Within minutes of arriving in Bombay, he encounters Saji (Ricky Cordell), an adorable child of the streets who longs to see his American father. His devoted mother Anasuya (Madlyn Rhue) keeps a terrible secret from him: she is a prostitute who doesn't even know who fathered the boy. Saji helps Kenner escape harm at the hands of an angry mob and, as a result, the two become inseparable. Kenner romances Anasuya, but both mother and son become unwitting participants in Kenner's dangerous attempts to track down Jordan. The film meanders from one chase to another, and director Sekely does the best he can to capitalize on the exotic locations in old Bombay and provides a few exciting, well-staged chase scenes. However. everyone seems to realize they are participating in a bottom-of-the-double-feature production. Brown is uncharacteristically bland, phoning in his performance and performing the requisite action sequences with something less than zeal. There is one surprising plot development that does pack some emotional impact, but the film is, in the overall sense, a misfire. The former footballer-turned-action star was overexposed at the time, with six movies released between 1968-1969 though he would later redeem himself with more successful films than this. The supporting cast of Kenner contributes some admirable performances, with old hand Robert Coote as a devious English aristocrat providing a few interesting moments. However, the performance of Charles Horvath as the villain is poor enough to make viewers grateful that he has limited screen time. Unless you have an urgent desire to see what Bombay looked like in 1969, this Brown title will be only for the actor's hard-core fans. The DVD contains the original trailer, which plays up the exotic locations and action elements, while pointedly avoiding the attempts to soft-soap Brown's character.
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it would be a wait of 15 months before it hit British screens, Phenomena –
Dario Argento’s ninth feature release – was first unveiled to Italian audiences
early in 1985. It had been three years since Tenebrae (which despite stiff
competition is my favourite Argento) and at the time Phenomena was broadly
considered his weakest offering. It’s narrative core, which concerns a young
girl communing with insects in order to identify a maniac killer, was indisputably
a shade bananas (rather apt given the significant involvement of a vengeful
primate!), but for me it was by no means his least interesting film to that
point and considering the mixed bag of cinematic fodder bearing his name that’s
appeared in the years since, I’d not hesitate to cite it as one of his more
Corvino (Jennifer Connelly), the teenage daughter of a famous movie star,
arrives at The Richard Wagner International School for Girls in Switzerland
where she learns from her new roommate that a number of girls in the area have
gone missing, the possible victims of a serial killer. Jennifer suffers from somnambulism
and one night she wakens to find herself lost in the woods, whereupon she
encounters a friendly chimpanzee which leads her to safety at the nearby home
of its owner, wheelchair-bound entomologist Professor John McGregor (Donald
Pleasence). Jennifer is fascinated by insects and when she tells McGregor she’s
able to communicate with them telepathically the two become firm friends.
McGregor has been assisting police on the serial killer case in an advisory
capacity and believes that the corpses of the missing girls can be tracked down
by the Great Sarcophagus, a species of fly that can detect rotting flesh. He
duly convinces Jennifer she can help solve the case by using one that he has
captive to guide her to the refuge of the killer.
(with Franco Ferrini), produced and directed by Argento, it’s obvious from the
above précis that Phenomena is structured upon some pretty outré ideas. But
even if the results aren’t entirely satisfying, I applaud the man for
attempting to do something beyond playing safe and recycling the same old
giallo formula. Besides which, overlooking its inadequacies – not least of
which is a run-time that overstretches the narrative’s ability to fully engage –
there’s some really good stuff going on here.
of that run-time, if ever proof were needed that it’s possible to have too much
of a good thing then Phenomena is it. There exist three versions of the movie:
the 116-minute Italian cut, a 110-minute international edit, and an American
theatrical cut (retitled Creepers and which, at 83-minutes, had almost a third of
the Italian original’s run-time sheared off it); against all expectation it’s
the latter tightened-up version that arguably plays best.
I digress. The Swiss locations are breathtaking and in terms of set-up, Phenomena’s
opening sequence – which finds a young girl on a class trip into the mountains
being inadvertently left behind when the coach departs (they used to count us
aboard in my day!) – is terrific. The girl, played by his teenage daughter
Fiore, goes looking for help and happens across a chalet nestled in the
hillside where someone (or something!) tries to kill her. She flees but is
pursued by the grunting, scissor-wielding maniac to an observation platform
overlooking a waterfall. All the pieces are in place for the film’s first
murder sequence and with almost lascivious relish the camera observes a
stabbing, followed by a slo-mo backwards lurch through a plate glass window and
finally a decapitation. There’s graphic mayhem aplenty peppered throughout the
remainder of the movie (including a protracted wallow in a vile stew of rotting
cadavers), but for sheer style this opener is never quite matched.
Connelly was 14-years-old when she shot Phenomena and given that it was only
her second feature film appearance (following a small part in 1984’s Once Upon
a Time in America), it’s remarkable just how confidently she carries the film;
not only a budding beauty but already exhibiting the talent that would carry
her on to great acclaim (including an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind) in the years
ahead. Donald Pleasence showed up in a fistful of Italian chillers of varied
worth during the 1980s and he’s as reliably entertaining as ever here, adopting
a Scottish accent as the academic whose closest chum is a chimp. Argento’s
long-time partner and go-to leading lady (cf. Deep Red, Inferno, Tenebrae, Opera)
Daria Nicolodi delivers with elan, so too for that matter does gorgeous Flesh
for Frankenstein star Dalila Di Lazzaro, present as Jennifer’s chaperone and
school headmistress respectively. It’s good to see prolific player Patrick
Bauchau on hand too, although he’s a tad underused as the investigating police
inspector, very much relegated to the sidelines of the action.
Burt Reynolds had been gnawing around the boundaries of genuine stardom for more than a decade, starring in short-lived television shows and top-lining "B" movies. He ingratiated himself to the American public by showcasing his wit and comedic abilities by appearing on chat shows. In 1972, he struck gold when director John Boorman cast him opposite Jon Voight as the two male leads in the sensational film adaptation of James Dickey's "Deliverance". Finally, he could be classified as a major movie star. Soon, Reynolds was cranking out major films even while his uncanny ability to publicize himself resulted in such stunts as his famed provocative centerfold pose in Cosmopolitan magazine. On screen, Reynolds sensed that he could cultivate an especially enthusiastic audience if he catered to rural movie-goers. He was proven right with the release of "White Lightning", a highly enjoyable 1973 action/comedy that perfectly showcased Reynolds' favored image as a handsome, unflappable hero with a Bondian knack for tossing off quips while facing death and also engaging in good ol' boy towel-snapping humor. Playing bootlegger Gator McClusky, Reynolds drew major crowds, very much pleasing United Artists, which enjoyed hefty profits from the modestly-budgeted production. Reynolds learned, however, that his audience wouldn't necessarily follow him if he deviated from that image. When he went against the grain in films like "The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing", "At Long Last Love" and "Lucky Lady", the movies bombed. When he stuck to the basics, he had hits with "Shamus", "The Longest Yard" and "W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings". The legendary Variety headline that read "Hix Nix Stix Pix" was no longer true. The American heartland loved Burt Reynolds, especially when he played characters that rural audiences could embrace.
In 1976, Reynolds fulfilled another career milestone by directing his first feature film, a sequel to "White Lightning" titled "Gator". Like the first movie, it was shot entirely on location in Georgia and picked up on the adventures of everyone's favorite moonshiner. When we first see Gator in the sequel, he his getting out of jail only to be targeted by the feds to be used as a pawn in a multi-state crackdown on an epidemic of political corruption that threatens the career of the self-serving, ambitious governor (played very well by famed chat show host Mike Douglas in his big screen debut.) Gator is living in a shack located deep in an inhospitable swamp with his elderly father and precocious 9 year-old daughter when the feds launch a major raid to arrest him on moonshining charges. In reality, they want to use the warrant as leverage to convince him to go undercover for them inside the crime ring. Gator wants no part of it and leads the feds on a merry chase around the bayou in which he is pursued by speed boats and helicopters before finally relenting. The lead federal agent in charge is Irving Greenfield (Jack Weston), an overweight, hyper-nervous Jewish guy from Manhattan who has the unenviable task of ensuring that Gator follows orders. A good portion of the film's laugh quotient comes from Irving's less-than-convincing attempts to "blend in" with small town southern locals. The crime ring is run by Bama McCall (Jerry Reed), an outwardly charming and charismatic fellow who, in reality, uses brutally violent methods to ensure loyalty and intimidate local businessmen to pay protection money. He and Gator are old acquaintances and he doesn't hesitate to give Gator a good-paying job as an enforcer for his mob. Things become more intriguing when Gator sets eyes on Aggie Maybank (Lauren Hutton), an attractive local TV anchor with liberal political beliefs that find her squaring off against Bama in order to protect the poor merchants he is exploiting. "Gator" proceeds on a predictable path but its predictability doesn't detract from its merits, which are considerable. Reynolds is a joy to watch and it's small wonder he leaped to the top ranks of cinematic leading men. His cocky, self-assured persona served him well on the big screen and "Gator" is custom-made to please his core audience. He also proved to be a very able director, handling the action scenes and those of unexpected tragic twists with equal skill. He also gets very good performances from his eclectic cast, with Weston engaging in his usual penchant for scene-stealing. Reed also shines in a rare villainous role and ex-model Hutton proves she has admirable acting chops, as well. The action scenes are impressive thanks to the oversight of the legendary Hal Needham, who would forge a long-time collaborative relationship with Reynolds.
The year 1968 proved to be one of the most dramatic in American history. With the Vietnam War protest movement in high gear, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the decision by President Lyndon B. Johnson to not run for a second term, the Chicago riots and the the chaos in the Democratic party that lead to Richard Nixon's return from the political graveyard, at times it seemed like the very fabric of American society was falling apart. So it came as no surprise that the exhausted citizenry would try to find some temporary solace through popular entertainment. The movie "Yours, Mine and Ours" was a considerable hit partly because it starred two Hollywood icons: Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda and partly because it was so far removed from the contentious factors that defined every day living for most people. The film marked Lucille Ball's second-to-last big screen appearance (her final one being the ill-fated 1974 screen adaptation of "Mame"). She was never overly enamored of making theatrical films since she had such a loyal following on television. "Ours" was a notable exception and the film provided her with a good role in which to show she still had the timing that made her a comedy legend.
The film is based on the story of a real-life North and Beardsley families and inspired Helen North Beardsley (played by Lucy in the film) to write a book titled "Who gets the Drumstick?", which explored the humorous anecdotes of running a household with 22 children. Lucy had read the book and saw the potential for a screen adaptation. She enlisted her long-time sitcom writers Bob Carroll, Jr and Madelyn Davis to come up with a story for a feature film. Melville Shavelson, an old pro and directing comedy films, was brought on board to helm the production and co-write the screenplay. The coup was casting Henry Fonda as the husband, Frank Beardsley. The final script tossed out most real-life accuracies in favor of Hollywood schmaltz, which may be why Helen North Beardsley's book isn't officially credited as a source. (In real life, the Beardsley clan ended up mired in divorce and sibling disputes that extend to this day.) The film opens with Frank Beardsley (Fonda), a career naval officer returning from an extended stint at sea. Recently widowed, Frank has ten children ranging in age from late teens to infants. His brother and sister-in-law (the real heroes of the story) have been caring for them all until he returns. Once Frank assumes the dual duties of both mom and dad, he predictably finds the workload overwhelming. He keeps bumping into Helen North (Lucy), an attractive nurse on the naval base and the two are immediately attracted to each other. She has also recently been widowed and has eight children of her own. Amusingly, when the two go on their first date, each is reluctant to reveal to the other that they have such a large family. When the beans are spilled, they decide they can make the situation work to their advantage by getting married.
What follows is predictable bedlam as the kids resist being forced to share their home with the "other' family. Much time is spent on Helen trying to placate both sides and managing to alienate everyone. Meanwhile, hubby Frank resumes his naval duties, thus leaving Helen to deal with the 24/7 chaos but he does amusingly institute a navy-like system of keeping order in the house that mimics Capt. Von Trapp's methods in "The Sound of Music". The film is typical of these big family comedies in that the smaller kids tend to be lovable while the teenagers are self-centered and arrogant. It will not require a spoiler alert to state that in the end a crisis unites everyone to form one big, happy family. The film plays out like a big screen version of a sitcom with every predictable sight gag imaginable, albeit with a bit of saucy sexual humor thrown in. Nevertheless, it manages to be entertaining throughout thanks in large part to the engaging cast. Lucy and Fonda have genuine screen chemistry. Van Johnson pops up occasionally as Fonda's fellow naval officer and close friend and manages to get few laughs in a cliched buddy role. Tom Bosley makes a brief but amusing appearance as a physician who makes a house call on the Beardsley abode only to find the situation mind-boggling in terms of the sheer craziness on display. The film was obviously supposed to serve as a vehicle of tolerance for very large families but unintentionally seems to be a promotion for Planned Parenthood. Despite taking place during the height of the Vietnam War protests, when elder son Tim Matheson ends up being drafted, the family sends him off with all the concern that might be expended on a kid going to 4-H camp for a week. The film is devoid of any reflection of the political and social strife that had affected every American family during this crucial year. However, no one goes to see Lucille Ball in order to be reminded of social problems and director Melville Shavelson does an admirable job of making a cornball scenario play out more successfully than might have been imagined.
The movie has been released on Blu-ray by Olive Films and the transfer looks great. The only bonus extra is a work print trailer that doesn't seem to be finalized.
Business isn’t exactly booming for private
detective Peter Joseph Detweiler, better known as P.J. His makeshift office is
in a bar belonging to his only friend Charlie, his sporadic jobs include
entrapping cheating wives and he is not above drowning his sorrows in liquor. So
when wealthy magnate William Orbison offers him a substantial fee to be a
bodyguard for his mistress, Maureen Prebble, he jumps at the chance. What P.J.
doesn’t know is that Orbison has already hired someone else to commit a murder.
How this murder and the shamus’s new job intersect is the crux of the terrific
1968 neo-noir from Universal, P.J. (U.K.
title: New Face in Hell.)
Private detectives were prominent in the late
1960s and included Harper (1966), Tony Rome (1967), Gunn (1967), and Marlowe (1969).
P.J. appeared in the midst of this
surplus, which may account in part for its box office failure. The movie quickly
disappeared, at least in its original form. Due to one extended and bloody
sequence in a gay bar as well as to other scenes of violence and sexuality,
Universal drastically cut and re-edited the movie for its television network
presentation. Since then, it has never been officially released on home video
and the original version may be lost forever.
Philip Reisman, Jr.’s screenplay is based on
his original story co-written with producer Edward Montagne. The script initially
unfolds as a conventional mystery but gets increasingly complicated with each
twist and turn. Maureen appears to definitely need a bodyguard, in view of threatening
letters as well as a shot fired into her bedroom. And there is no shortage of
suspects who would like to see her dead. Orbison’s emotionally fragile wife,
Betty, resents the very thought of her husband’s paramour. Betty’s relatives despise
Maureen because of her emergence as principle beneficiary in Orbison’s will. Orbison’s
Executive Assistant, Jason Grenoble, due to his apparent affluent upbringing, is
displeased about being used as a flunky. Making P.J.’s job more difficult is Orbison’s
decision to take everyone, including relatives and mistress, to his hideaway in
the Caribbean island of St. Crispin’s. And it is in this tropical setting that
P.J. is forced to kill a suspect. This seems to be the end of the case. But it
is really only the end of the second act. The third act is filled with
intrigue, deception, blackmail and three brutal deaths.
John Guillermin is an underappreciated
director who created admirable films in many genres, including mystery, adventure,
war and western as well as the disaster and monster genres. His success could perhaps be due not only to his
skill but to a style that is unobtrusive. He directs P.J. in a straightforward fashion, not allowing any directorial flourishes
to interrupt the flow of the story. With cinematographer Loyal Griggs, he cleverly
contrasts the seedy sections of New York City with the natural beauty of St.
Crispin’s. However, this beauty is soon tainted by the presence of Orbison, whose
wealth the island’s economy requires to flourish. Guillermin allows each of the
characters within Orbison’s contingent enough screen time to make an impact.
Basically, they all appear to be self-centered, greedy and nasty. Orbison is
especially sadistic, in addition to being notoriously miserly. Maureen doesn’t
apologize for providing sexual favors in exchange for future wealth. Betty is
willing to be repeatedly humiliated to obtain her customary allowance. Grenoble
continually demeans himself to keep his well-paid position. And then there is butler
Shelton Quell, who is not as harmless as his effeminate mannerisms suggest. This
is a sordid group of characters that P.J. is involved with but his dire
financial state has apparently extinguished his conscience, particularly since
he soon becomes intimately involved with the body that he is guarding. P.J.’s
essential irony arises from the fact that he is equally greedy, at least
initially. He also seems to be morally bankrupt. When he encounters Orbison
leaving Maureen’s cottage, it doesn’t faze him that they have just engaged in a
quickie. P.J. knows that he has sold his gun to Orbison just as Maureen has
sold her body.
In the early 1960s, George Peppard became a
major star in expensive films such as The
Carpetbaggers and How the West Was
Won. In mid-decade, he starred in another big-budget film, The Blue Max, the first of three movies
he would make with John Guillermin. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he starred
in several smaller-budgeted movies. While some of them, especially Pendulum and The Groundstar Conspiracy are exceptional, others are unremarkable.
The commercial failure of these movies diminished his star status and he was
relegated to series television. This was regrettable because he had genuine
star quality as well as considerable talent.
As P.J. Detweiler, Peppard creates a unique
private eye that puts him apart from his cinematic brethren. P.J. initially appears
disillusioned with his life and work. Like many film noir protagonists, he is one
of society’s alienated outcasts. He is not just down and out but seems resigned
to his dismal situation. When he is offered the lucrative position of
bodyguard, he is so destitute that he agrees to a humiliating audition of
fisticuffs. As he begins his job, he appears impassive to the decadence of
Orbison’s environment. However, after he has been duped and discarded, he
asserts himself and becomes a traditional detective who is determined to pursue
clues and solve the mystery. But unlike traditional detectives, he doesn’t
derive any pleasure from the solution to the crime. The fact that he has been maneuvered
into facilitating a murder has emotionally drained him. At the end of the film,
he forces a cheerless smile at Charlie but he is unable to sustain it,
replacing it quickly with a look of despair. All of these emotions are
reflected in Peppard’s superb portrayal.
Admittedly I'm not proficient in analyzing Italian "giallo" films. They represent a peculiar genre combining film noir with tinges of crime and overt sexual behavior, often of a perverse nature. Director Giulio Questi's bizarrely-titled "Death Laid an Egg" is a 1968 production that has acquired a significant cult appeal. It's easy to see why. The movie is a mind-bending exercise in quasi-surrealism combined with Hitchcockian elements of kinky people involved in murderous activities. Much of the action takes place in- get this- a state-of-the-art chicken processing plant run by Anna (Gina Lollobrigida), a sexy and dominating woman who constantly berates her long-suffering husband Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The couple has a marriage of convenience and spend much of their time bickering about how to run the plant, which is in financial trouble and is beset with problems with recently fired workers who hang about and exhibiting threatening behavior. The plant is of great concern to their financial investors who are pushing Anna and Marco to develop a mutant form of chicken that will dispense with such unnecessary parts as the head, thereby improving profitability. This strange premise sets the basis for the story, which only gets weirder as the plot progresses. Anna and Marco's marriage is threatened by the presence of their sensuous, live-in secretary Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin), a sexually liberated teenager who has a magnetic hold on the couple. Marco is scheming how to get away from Anna and start a new life with Gabrielle but he's financially dependent upon Anna's fortune in order to survive. Meanwhile, Anna is equally smitten by her and the two women even sleep together, implying they, too, have a sexual relationship. However, Anna is having an affair with another man, Luigi (Renato Romano) who she considers to be her real lover. They are scheming how to manipulate Anna and Marco for their own financial advantage. Complicating matters is Marco's hobby-- which is checking into a roadside hotel frequented by prostitutes and abusing and even murdering the ladies of the night in ritualistic S&M practices. There is also a Felliniesque scene in which pampered members of the social elite engage in a strange party game that involves randomly selected guests forming pairs and entering a deserted room where presumably they are to explore their inner-most sexual fantasies. Toss into the mix a subplot in which chemists realize their dream of creating the mutant chicken, which pleases the financial backers of the processing plant- only to have Marco react with disgust about the development, leading him to suffer a breakdown of sorts that threatens his own livelihood. Got all that? If so, then please explain it to me.
The film's scattershot plot devices make it hard to follow. Director Questi moves the action along at too-brisk-a-pace to fully comprehend what we need to absorb in order to fully comprehend the characters' motivations and who is doing what to whom. You'll probably find yourself revisiting key parts of the movie in an attempt to gain a better understanding of what is going on. Having said that, the film is stylishly presented and is bizarre enough to hold the viewer's attention. Helping matters are the performances of Trintigant, Lollobrigida and Aulin. The first two actors were royalty of the European cinema at the time the movie was made and they deliver the goods. Perhaps most surprising is the fact that young Ewa Aulin, whose brief career has left her regarded as a flash-in-the-pan sex symbol of the era, gives an impressive, nuanced and admirable performance in the presence of her two esteemed co-stars. The film also benefits from an inspired score by Bruno Maderna that perfectly captures the bizarre mood of this very bizarre film.
Fans of "Death Laid an Egg" have had to subside on sub-par home video releases of the movie but now the creative folks at Cult Epics have issued a Blu-ray/DVD edition that must be a substantial improvement over existing releases. The film is presented in its original Italian language version with English sub-titles in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, but IMDB lists the original theatrical ratio as 1.85:1, which may explain why the opening credits are subjected to some of the names being partially cropped. Still, it's an impressive release and there are some welcome bonus extras including the original trailer, isolated soundtrack score and a nice photo gallery of promotional materials. The movie is certainly an acquired taste but if you're feeling adventurous, give it a try.
Cary Grant was one of the few actors to defy the effects of aging. The older he got, the more popular his films became. By the late 1950s Grant had become uncomfortable making movies because he realized audiences only wanted to see him as a romantic lead and he felt self-conscious about studio insistence that he be seen on screen romancing female leads who were often decades younger than him. Nonetheless, Grant kept forestalling his frequent vows to retire from acting. He had taken much more control over his career by forming his own production company and the result were some of the biggest hits of his career ("Operation Petticoat", "That Touch of Mink", "Charade"). Grant's primary motivation for not retiring was his desire- or rather, obsession- with winning an Oscar. Alfred Hitchcock had advised him that the best way to do so was to get away from playing the typical Cary Grant type on film and choose a role that was opposite from his usual image. Grant thought this was an inspired idea and agreed to star in a promising vehicle titled "Father Goose", which was written by Peter Stone, the screenwriter of Grant's megahit "Charade". The WWII era comedy would allow Grant to give a tour-de-force performance as Walter Eckland, an amiable, scrubby beach bum who intends to sit out the war in the South Pacific by lazing about getting drunk all day. His tropical paradise is threatened when he is dragooned into service as a coast watcher by his old crony Commander Frank Houghton (Trevor Howard) of the Australian Navy, who informs Walter that he is cutting off his supply of booze unless he makes frequent reports on Japanese ship movements. Each time he does so, Frank will reveal where another bottle of liquor has been hidden. Walter reluctantly concedes, not out of patriotism, but out of personal inability to last long without a drink. (The banter over the radio between Grant and Howard is priceless). Things get complicated, however, when Walter ends up having to rescue a group of young schoolgirls and their teacher, Catherine Freneau (Leslie Caron) after they have been shipwrecked on a nearby island. Most of the predictable fun comes from watching Grant's W.C. Fields-like persona having to cope with his young charges as well as their strict teacher, who forbids him from engaging in his generally deviant behavior. Grumpy and unshaven, Grant appears as he never had on film before and he gives one of the best performances of his career. He supposedly felt awkward in the inevitable love scenes with Caron, who was young enough to be his daughter, but the chemistry works on film. Grant's Walter is also a reluctant hero in the mode of Humphrey Bogart's Rick from "Casablanca". He's late to the challenge of doing his bit for the war effort, but he naturally comes through in the end. The film runs almost two hours but it's kept at a breezy pace by the talents of director Ralph Nelson and the jaunty score by Cy Coleman (including the memorable song "Pass Me By") adds immeasurably to the fun.
The Olive Films Blu-ray special edition has some impressive bonus extras. They include an audio commentary by ubiquitous film historian David DelValle. As someone who has recorded numerous audio commentaries, I always find they play out better when I invite other film scholars to join me. Oft times, a single commentator can delve into dull, professorial discussions. However, DelValle defies the odds and his solo track is thoroughly engaging and informative. DelValle did his homework and got access to Cary Grant's personal script from "Father Goose", which adds some insights into his mindset during filming. Additionally, he quotes liberally from Leslie Caron's memoirs about the making of the film, providing candid observations about Grant's unpredictable on-set mood swings. There is also an on-camera interview with Grant biographer Marc Elliott that is very interesting, though Elliott gets his facts wrong when he attributes Grant's late career traveling one-man stage shows as an inspiration for the Academy finally granting him an honorary Oscar. In fact, Grant's Oscar was presented to him in 1970, more than a decade before he initiated his stage appearances. Nevertheless, he provides some fascinating insights into Grant's personal life. There is also a filmed interview with Ted Nelson, son of director Ralph Nelson, who correctly points out how talented his father was- and indeed, how underrated Nelson's contributions to TV and movies of the era were. There is also a 1964 newsreel that includes the funeral of President Herbert Hoover followed by Leslie Caron receiving the "Star of the Year" award from American theater owners. Rounding out the package is a fine essay about "Father Goose" Village Voice writer Bilge Ebiri.
Cary Grant never got a competitive Oscar and indeed was never even nominated for "Father Goose", though Peter Stone won for his screenplay. Yet, he had the satisfaction of seeing the movie become a major hit. He would make only one more film- "Walk, Don't Run"- before going into retirement, leaving a legacy few other actors have equaled.
Olive Films used to take a lot of heat from retro movie lovers for putting out classic movies in bare-bones video editions. Looks like they got the memo because their recent releases feature highly impressive bonus features, as evidenced by this first rate edition of "Father Goose".
"Running on Empty" is one of Sidney Lumet's best films but the 1988 release remains one of his least-seen, despite winning enthusiastic reviews upon its release. Perhaps the offbeat storyline and lack of "boxoffice" names in starring roles prevented potentially appreciative audiences from seeing it. However, the good news is that the Warner Archive has made the title available on Blu-ray. Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti play Arthur and Annie Pope, a married couple who, in the 1970s, were part of a radical leftist group akin to the Weathermen. They carried out a scheme to destroy a facility that was manufacturing Napalm but the bombing had an unintended consequence: a security guard ended up blinded and partially paralyzed. Now it's 1988 and the couple have been on the run ever since, the FBI having doggedly pursued them the entire time. The Pope's situation is complicated by the fact that they have two sons: Danny (River Phoenix) is a senior in high school and his brother Harry (Jonas Abry) is a precocious pre-teen. The family is constantly pulling up stakes and moving out on the spur of the moment if they suspect the feds are closing in on them. When we first meet them in the film, the family is on the run again. They sustain themselves by Arthur getting short-term jobs in each new location, as Annie stays home with the boys. They are aided and abetted by a clandestine secret network of left-wing sympathizers who provide them with seed money to help them manage a lower-middle class lifestyle. Still, the nerve-wracking nature of their existence is taking a toll on everyone, especially Danny, who is of an age where he wants and needs stability. When the family ends up renting an apartment in a New Jersey suburb on the outskirts of New York City, Danny finally finds a niche in the high school. His music teacher, Mr. Phillips (Ed Crowley) recognizes the boy's musical abilities and arranges for him to apply to Julliard for a scholarship, which he wins against all odds. This development causes a family crisis. Arthur maintains that in order to attend the school, the family will finally have to come up with positive proof of Danny's real identity- a revelation that would be sure to bring in the authorities and separate him from the family indefinitely. Annie argues that it's time to put Danny's life dream ahead of their own priorities and claims she can ask her wealthy, estranged father who she has not been in contact with for years, to allow Danny to live with him in Manhattan. Arthur, who has an authoritarian streak, insists that the family stay together. Complicating matters is that Danny has fallen hard for his first true love, a sassy classmate named Lorna Phillips (Martha Plimpton), the daughter of his music teacher. She lives a privileged life but is unhappy because she doesn't adhere to society's idea of conventional behavior. The two teens become emotionally dependent upon each other- but when Arthur learns the feds are closing in again, Danny confesses his real identity to Lorna in order to explain why he has to leave in order to keep his family together.
If all of the above sounds a bit soap-operaish, it doesn't play out that way. Under Lumet's steady and assured direction, and working from a terrific screenplay by Noami Forner, every cast member delivers a superlative performance, including those in supporting roles. (Kudos to the casting director, Todd Thaler, for rounding up such a talented group.) Hirsch is great as the sincere but flawed father who barely hides a dictatorial nature. Lahti is equally good as his committed, but long-suffering wife. The scene stealers are River Phoenix and Martha Plimpton, both of whom deliver superb performances. There is no action, no violence, only pure human emotion. After so many years on the run, fractures appear in the relationship between Annie and Arthur. She had always been content to allow him to dominate the family's actions but now she is daring to defy him. There are so many beautiful and touching scenes in "Running on Empty", but one of the best is a quiet one in which young Danny and Lorna express their love for each other. It's one of the most richly rewarding romantic scenes in any film. There is also a beautiful and touching scene in which Annie defies Arthur by secretly arranging to meet with her estranged dad (superbly played by Steven Hill in an abbreviated but pivotal role). Tensions mount until the highly emotional final scene.
"Running on Empty" provides no villains. The FBI men are shadowy figures but they are just doing their jobs and trying to enforce the law. Annie and Arthur are haunted by the fact that their act of violence claimed an innocent victim but their ideology prevented them from ever taking responsibility for their actions. They are still committed idealists who believe in taking down the Establishment, even if they no longer adhere to doing so through violent means. The film is not only thought-provoking but thoroughly entertaining. It's another outstanding achievement, albeit it a relatively unheralded one, from one of America's master film directors.
For many years Pierce Brosnan has taken control of his own legacy through his production company Irish DreamTime. He's had some mixed results but the bottom line is that he has remained a popular, consistently working leading man. Brosnan's hi-tech thriller "I.T." was released in 2016 with a limited theatrical run that apparently didn't generate any substantial business. The film has been released on Blu-ray where it has been largely savaged by reviewers. Having watched the film, I'll dare to go in the opposite direction and swim against the tide. I found the film to be thoroughly entertaining and very slickly made with rich production values that mask its relatively modest budget.
Brosnan is well-cast as Mike Regan, a mega-wealthy industrialist who is gambling everything he has on the launch of a bold new enterprise. Essentially, it's an Uber-like service that caters to rich executives who need air transportation on a minute's notice. Regan's company has a fleet of private jets ready to serve this limited clientele in return for sky high fees. When we first meet Regan, he's frantically overseeing his company's first official unveiling of the business plan. He still has to get approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission, but feels he has nothing to worry about in that regard. However, upon personally launching the hi-tech, expensive video presentation in front of business executives, the press and potential investors, a serious glitch threatens to spell catastrophe when the video malfunctions. Regan is spared disaster by the intervention of Ed Porter (James Frecheville), an innocuous temporary employee who Regan doesn't even know. Thanks to Ed's quick thinking, the video presentation resumes quickly and is deemed a success. A grateful Regan personally thanks Ed and rewards him with full-time employment. He also invites him to his modern mansion house with a freelance assignment to rewire the outdated wi-fi capabilities. When Ed arrives at the house, Regan introduces him to his wife Rose (Ann Friel) and his attractive teenage daughter Kaitlyn (Stefanie Scott), who is a high school student. Regan gives Ed the royal treatment and encourages him to stay for drinks. Ed, meanwhile, has an ulterior motive. Upon having seen Kaitlyn tanning herself poolside while clad in a bikini, he decides to wire the home in a very unique manner that no one will be aware of. By the time he's done, the Regans have the ultimate hi-tech wiring system- but don't suspect that Ed has secretly installed microscopic video cameras and microphones that allow him to monitor every movement and conversation, which he views at his loft on a wall-sized video screen. Unbeknownst to Regan, Ed had also made some "improvements" to his state-of-the-art sports car that will allow Ed to manipulate the controls and a video system installed on the dashboard. Regan soon discovers that his friendly overtures to Ed have blurred the line between in the employer/employee relationship. Soon, Ed is showing up uninvited at the family home. Of more concern to Mike and Rose is Ed's increasingly obvious interest in Kaitlyn, who seems smitten by the older man. When Ed crosses the line, Regan ends up firing him in a very belittling manner and thereby opening a Pandora's Box of troubles for himself, his wife and daughter.
Ed seeks immediate revenge and he has plenty of tools at his disposal. A master hacker, he forges documents that are leaked to the SEC, causing Regan's pending deal to fall under suspicion of being illegal and gumming up the approval process. He also releases provocative footage of Kaitlyn in the shower that was secretly shot with the hidden cameras. The result is her humiliation among her friends and schoolmates. Regan catches on that his entire world is in the hands of a mentally unstable former employee and he decides to fight back. After trying to physically intimidate Ed- a tactic that fails- he uses his own hi tech genius, the shadowy Henrik (wonderfully played by Michael Nyqvist), who constructs a plan to turn the tables on Ed by hacking the hacker and turning his own world into a nightmare. The result is a cat-and-mouse game between Regan and Ed that escalates to a violent final confrontation between the two antagonists.